Mexico is an economic leader in Latin America, has Free Trade Agreements with over fifty countries, and is one of the most important trading economies in the world.
The word "Mexico" is derived from Mexica (pronounced "Me-shee-ka"), the name for the indigenous group that settled in central Mexico in the early fourteenth century and is best known as the Aztecs.
The Mexican people are exceedingly warm and hospitable. Unlike North America, the Mexican culture is characterized for being very 'touchy-feely', similar to parts of Europe. Mexicans grow up with a group orientation and are primarily family and group directed. The nuclear family is the common household unit. Even though Mexican culture is diverse, there is also a strong identification with the nation-state; nationalism is vigorous.
Fiestas abound in Mexico. Every village of the nation's larger towns and cities has a designated saint or virgin in whose honour civilians hold annual fiestas that have a religious content. Many religious celebrations have their roots in the pre-Hispanic era, while most civic holidays reflect modern historical events. Government offices, banks, schools and some businesses close across the nation for major national holidays. Such shut-downs may also occur during important religious celebrations in individual localities.
Mexicans are proud of their roots and traditions: it's evident in the way they carry out their daily activities as well as in the way they celebrate important occasions. Some of the most relevant and colourful Mexican traditions and celebrations are:
Christmas (Navidad) -- December 24th and 25th
Christmas festivities begin with Las Posadas, nine consecutive days of candlelight processions and lively parties starting on December 16th. Holiday festivities culminate on Christmas Eve (Noche Buena) with the celebration of a late-night mass (Misa de Gallo). Afterwards families head home for a traditional Christmas dinner which may feature a Biscayan cod (bacalao) and wild greens in mole sauce (revoltijo de romeritos). Roast turkey, ham or suckling pig are other popular menu items. A hot fruit punch, (Ponche), sparkling cider (sidra) or other spirits are served for the holiday toast. The evening is rounded out with the opening of gifts and, for the children, piñatas and sparklers. December 25th is set aside as a day to rest and enjoy that universal holiday bonus of leftovers (el recalentado).
Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) -- October 31st to November 2nd
Día de los Muertos is a special occasion in which Mexicans remember and honour their family and friends who have passed on. The spirits of the dead are thought to return at this time to visit their relatives and loved ones, who prepare special offerings for them. Unlike Halloween, which is characterized by goblins, witches, and the occult, Day of the Dead, was initially celebrated by the Aztecs to honour the memory of the dead.
Some of the key elements of Día de los Muertos include: creating an altar with lots of bright marigold flowers or flowers in season and candles, placing photographs of the deceased loved ones and preparing food and drink that remind family of them. Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday (Semana Santa) it should come as no surprise that in Mexico, a predominantly Roman Catholic country, Easter --- Pascua --- is one of the two most widely celebrated and important religious holidays of the year; Christmas being the other. What you won't see in Mexico at Easter time, except perhaps in giant urban supermarkets, will be any sign of the Easter Bunny. No Easter baskets or coloured eggs either. This holiday season is a very popular time for Mexican families to go on vacation to popular destinations.
The most important icon of Mexican national culture is the Virgin of Guadalupe, which illustrates the pervasive influence of Roman Catholicism in the national culture. She is viewed as the "mother" of all Mexicans. The dark-skinned Virgin is the Mexican version of the Virgin Mary and as such represents national identity as the product of the mixing of European and Meso-American religions and peoples. Her image was used in the struggle for independence against the Spanish. Mexicans have developed a particular sense of uniqueness, which is expressed in the popular saying como México no hay dos! (Mexico is second to none).