Fireworks, ringing bells, 12 grapes, a family dinner, sparkling wine, hugs and music set the stage for a typical New Year’s celebration in Mexico’s largest cities. As in the rest of the world,we Mexicans gather together with our loved ones, relatives or friends to celebrate what we’ve shared during the past year and to wish a better one for everyone.
As in the rest of the world, New Year’s celebration in Mexico is not necessarily held at home. Families or friends also gather in restaurants that offer dinner and dancing.
Additionally, state governments also organize massive celebrations in public places such as thePlaza de la Constitucion (Zocalo), the Monument of the Revolution in Mexico City, or in the beautiful Parque Fundidora in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon.
Those that celebrate at home share various rituals from many of the world’s cultures. It’s very traditional to eat 12 grapes at the moment that the countdown begins to welcome the New Year, representing 12 wishes; lentils are spread around the door as a symbol of abundance; sweeping toward the outside of the home, to drive everything bad from the previous year out of it, or using red underwear that night to attract love, or yellow to attract money…
However, rituals are still preserved in Mexico whose origins date back to pre-Hispanic times. The various cultures that inhabited what is now the Mexican territory also celebrated the end of one cycle and the beginning of another, which did not necessarily have the duration of the current year. And although each had its own calendars and rituals, in general, theyshared some fundamental concepts and elements.
On the one hand, the Mayans, Aztecs and others of Mexico’s pre-Hispanic cultures conceived of time in a very different manner from today. For them, time was not linear, but cyclical. That is, every so often, the most important events were repeated, such as the seasons and the movements of the stars, as well as the periods of war, the dreaded years of drought or devastating floods.
That ‘s why the ancient Mexicans were great observers of nature and even had several calendars such as religious and agricultural ones, which determined all the activities within every sector of society, from planting to the most favorable time to wage war.
The merger of its various calendars generated a ”total calendar”, which covered a great many years. For example, for the Aztecs, every 52 years marked the change of an era and this celebration was called the “binding of years” or the “New Fire“. For the Maya, every 20 yearswas a katun and every 20 katuns marked a new era or Baktun.
Both the Mayans and the Aztecs performed very solemn ceremonies, rituals and sacrifices to thank the gods for the beginning of a new era. Fire was a fundamental part in all of them, because in Pre-Hispanic cultures, fire is the purifying element par excellence.
And it is precisely these two elements, fire and the observation of the natural environment, which have survived in the New Year celebration among Mexico’s populations. The National Council for Culture and the Arts (CONACULTA) gives us a small account that proves it:
- The ignition of the “dazzling lights” every first of January in various regions of Mexico, such as Ixmiquilpan, Hidalgo, the main social core of the Hnahnu or Otomi of the MezquitalValley: each of the 50 indigenous neighborhoods of Ixmiquilpan lights a fire in the embattled atrium of the former Augustinian convent of San Miguel Arcángel. This activity also takes place on February 2 in Michoacan’s northern region; the land of the Purepecha.
- The Totonac of Veracruz perform a ritual involving the community healers and the blood offering of chickens, tamales, bread and flowers to the ancient gods.
In Oaxaca, young zoques dress up as ”huehues“ (elders) and “burn“ the old year to then go celebrate at a carnival held in the community’s homes. In other villages, the elderly use rockets to illuminate the sky and carefully observe it at the precise arrival of the new year. That’s how they know whether it will be a year of rain or drought.
- The cabañuelas have great importance in rural Mexico. The name derives from the sixteenth month of the Mayan calendar: Caban, and refers to the detailed observation of the climate during the initial 12 days of the year, in order to predict the weather for the next 12 months. It is known that this system of observation, which seems so empiric, was also used by the most ancient cultures of humanity; Babylon and Israel.
All this without mentioning that many indigenous peoples retain their own account for years and celebrate their ”new year” on different dates, such as the Seri, in the desert of Sonora, northern Mexico, who celebrate it on June 30 and on July 1. Likewise, inSantiago Tuxtla, Veracruz, the new Mesoamerican year is celebrated on the first Friday inMarch by way of a ritual offering to the sun.
Most assuredly, the custom called el “recalentado“ (the ”re-heated”) is a long-standing tradition rooted throughout Mexico, quite in keeping with the festive and generouscharacter of the Mexicans and also with the abundant and delicious national gastronomy. It consists simply of sharing the next morning what was left over from the dinner with either the same or other guests. It is said that the recalentado is even more delicious than the dinner itself …
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Feliz Año Nuevo!