Mexican Festivals: Nomads Share Their Favorites

Boisterous celebrations are held across the country, all year round. Here are a few key events to check out.


Photo © Getty Images / Robert Frerck

The Night Nobody Sleeps

I wasn’t sure what to expect when we pulled into Huamantla, Tlaxcala. It looked, after all, like pretty much every other small, unassuming Mexican village I’d visited. But in mid-August each year, Huamantla comes alive after dark in a way I’ve yet to see elsewhere.

We were there for The Night Nobody Sleeps, an annual celebration during which locals pour onto the streets, decorating Huamantla with intricate, vibrant sawdust "carpets" (or tapetes). Florals and religious imagery abound and glitter is a given. Men diligently sprinkle wood shavings atop their pre-prepared stencils. (If you ask nicely – or better yet, look hopeful enough – they might even let you do the honors.)

Over the course of the afternoon, we watched as the streets began to throng with domestic tourists, plus a handful of international visitors. By 1am, work had ceased, just in time for the procession. For the curious few, the tapetes feel like the main event, but for the devout onlookers, paying respects to the Virgen de la Caridad is what the evening is all about. – Lauren Cocking

The Night Nobody Sleeps is part of the Feria de Huamantla and falls around mid-August.

The Night Nobody Sleeps. Photo credit: Getty Images / Wilbur E. Garrett

Oaxaca Craft Beer Festival

Opposite the Templo de San Matias Jalatlaco in Oaxaca City, I watched an old man weave marigolds into a trellis above the door leading to Oaxaca's Craft Beer festival, Muerteada Cervecera. It was early November at the climax of Dia de los Muertas. Walking through the atrium, we rotated clockwise through the courtyard sampling the hand-crafted beer from more than 20 local brewers.

In its infancy, the Mexican craft beer industry looks north to the United States for inspiration; informing the brewers that we came from the US to Oaxaca specifically to explore the craft beer scene elicited glowing eyes, smiles, and appreciation from their excited faces. They seemed surprised anyone would travel to Oaxaca for craft beer.

With half the stands behind us, no beer truly stood out. That soon changed with the Rey-Oh-Baby Pale Ale: fruity esters under a malt backbone with a clean, refreshing, bitter finish. The next stand presented a mole-flavored stout: spicy chili pepper and creamy chocolate added complexity to the dark, roasted flavors. Center-stage, the band's trumpets accelerated their tempo with our discovery of new flavors. On the dance floor, brimming with liquid courage, our bodies obeyed the Mexican rhythm under clear, starry skies. – Sam Kazmer

Oaxaca’s Craft Beer Festival is held either the first week in November or the first week in December.

Oaxaca Craft Beer Festival. Photo credit: Sam Kazmer

Fiesta Grande de Enero

During the first few weeks of January, the sleepy town of Chiapa de Corzo bursts into life as its residents celebrate the Fiesta Grande de Enero. Nominally a Catholic event in honor of the patron saints of the town, in practice the dances, costumes, and rituals have their roots in the pre-Christian indigenous culture of the local Zoque people.

Walking into town, I passed a steady trickle of parachicos – the dancers who make the festival such an exotic and vibrant event. Wrapped in ponchos decorated with stripes of almost every color, they wore strange wooden masks depicting the bearded, pale-skinned faces of the Spanish colonial governors, and distinctive, mushroom-like hats to imitate their blonde hair. 

By the time I reached the town square, the trickle had become a flood of several thousand, and I was soon swept along by it. Accompanied by brass bands and mariachis, the parachicos danced energetically, cheered, and added the sound of their shakers. Women in traditional dress walked alongside them throwing confetti, and fireworks were set off alarmingly close to the crowds.

Every so often they would charge into one of the handsome colonial buildings which line the streets, and following them in, I found myself squeezed up against the dancers who had managed to find a spot inside. The smaller the space, it seemed, the more intense the dancing.  Max Serjeant

Chiapa de Corzo’s nearly month-long festival happens every January.

Parachicos at the Fiesta Grande de Enero. Photo credit: Getty Images / Ronaldo Schemidt

Fiestas de Octubre

Sandwiched as it is between September (the month of Mexican Independence Day), and November (when Day of the Dead famously descends on Mexico), October could seem like a comparatively disappointing month to drop by.

That’s far from the case in Guadalajara, the western city which rings in this transition month with, appropriately, four weeks of festivities. Welcome to the Fiestas de Octubre.

I’d only lived in Guadalajara, Jalisco for a month when the festivities – which are kicked off each year by family-friendly parades and over-the-top firework displays – began in earnest. I was just barely getting to grips with the language, never mind the culture, but Guadalajara clearly didn’t have time to ease me in.

Instead, I was thrust into a month-long introduction to many of Mexico’s most traditional events: mariachi concerts and charreadas (Mexican rodeos) spring to mind, as do traditional dance recitals, film screenings, and free concerts from big name Mexican bands and singers.

Tequila and beer flowed far too easily and I’d go back in a heartbeat. – Lauren Cocking

The Fiestas de Octubre attractions can be found across the city throughout the month of October.

Charro (traditional cowboy) at a rodeo in Guadalajara. Photo credit: Getty Images / Brazil Photos

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