Merrymaking is almost a national pastime in Mexico, a nation rich in unique traditions and festivals, and its approach to New Year’s Eve is no different. Mexico City is at the heart of the country’s celebrations. Street festivals complete with vendors hawking traditional food and drink, live music, and fireworks erupt throughout the city, with each neighborhood sponsoring their own flavor of celebration. For the main attraction, head to the Zocalo, the city’s main square and the center of the historic district. Already surrounded by pedestrian thoroughfares, the city closes several major arteries, including the route from the Zocalo to the Palacio de Bellas Artes and several blocks of the Paseo do Reforma Boulevard.
Parade floats, costumed dancers, and brass bands maneuver along the boulevard during the day. Hordes of party-goers flood the streets beginning in the early afternoon to witness the spectacle. Major Latin musicians perform on stages set up around the square. The endless crush of revelers only increases as the night’s merry-making progresses, dancing, eating, and drinking in anticipation of the massive fireworks display right at midnight, heralding the new year. Celebrations continue until the early hours of the morning and at dawn, church bells ring out across the city.
Mexico’s smaller cities host their own New Year’s Eve celebrations, combining universal traditions with elements of local culture. In Oaxaca, for example, the festival stretches from the town square to the Cathedral along a pedestrian-only street. In addition to live music, parade floats, and of course fireworks, town residents smash clay bowls against the side of the Cathedral in a ceremony welcoming new beginnings. Towns along Mexico’s coast, particularly those popular with tourists like Cancun and Acapulco, host flashy fireworks over the water.
Many of Mexico’s current traditions have their roots in ancient Mayan and Aztec cultures. For these societies, marking the end of one cycle and the beginning of the next with some sort of ritual was and still is a fundamental religious practice. Pre-Hispanic cultures considered fire the primary purifying element, which for this reason played a central role in all ceremonies marking the beginning of a new era. Now, many villages in central Mexico use fire to celebrate the New Year, either through ritualistic “burning” of things representing the past, or by literally lighting fires in the town square.
For the full New Year’s Eve experience, regardless of exactly where or how you’re celebrating, be sure to participate in some of Mexico’s more unique traditions.
– As the clock strikes midnight, eat twelve grapes – one per stroke. Each grape represents a month in the coming year. Make a wish for each grape that you eat, and look forward to the months ahead!
– Planning any traveling in the new year? Empty out your suitcase and walk around the block with it on New Year’s Eve. Prospective Mexican travelers believe this will bring them luck on future journeys. I’m pretty sure that being a traveler at the time of your walk doubles your luck, and I know you’ve got a suitcase handy.
– Choose your underwear wisely. In Mexico, the color of your undergarments on New Year’s Eve determines your destiny for the coming year. Wear red for love, yellow for money, or white for health. Make sure you pack accordingly – there’s sure to be a run on colored underwear leading up to the festivities.
– And finally, put your dentist on speed dial. Slices of Mexican pan dulce, a traditional sweet bread, are served right at midnight. The baker has usually hidden a coin or pendant in the loaf. The person who discovers it in their slice will be the luckiest heading into the New Year. Chew with caution.
Celebrating New Year’s Eve in Mexico combines the old with the new, honoring the nation’s rich history while at the same time eagerly anticipating its future. The festivals strike the perfect balance between traditional and modern – exactly the kind of excellence we expect from the nation that brought us the pinata and the taco.
Let’s be fearless,