Feliz Navidad and Cinco de Mayo: History behind some holidays in Spanish-speaking countries

What you didn’t know about some important holidays, celebrations in Hispanic cultures

ORLANDO, Fla. – We’ve all heard of Cinco de Mayo, but do you really know what the day means? It’s more than a reason to drink margaritas and eat tacos.

What about Dia de los Muertos? Think you know what La Semana Santa is?

There’s several holidays, or los dias de fiesta, and celebrations that are a big deal when it comes to Hispanic countries and cultures, so this Hispanic Heritage Month, we figured we’d tell you a little about some of them.

Jan. 6: Dia de los Reyes

Christmas doesn’t end on Dec. 25 in Latin America and Spain-- not until Jan. 6 with Three Kings’ Day or Dia de los Reyes. The day marks the adoration shown for the baby Jesus by the three kings, a group who are often referred to as the wise men or the Magi, who traveled to the manger and offered gifts. The holiday, too, goes by the alternate names Feast of the Epiphany, the 12th day of Christmas and Little Christmas. The event is celebrated with gift and food traditions. Children are told to leave their shoes by the door so the three kings can leave them presents, and they often leave salt and grass for their camels. Parades and other celebrations also occur.

Feb. 2: Dia de la Candelaria (Mexico)

Although it’s not an official holiday, many say the Christmas season in Mexico doesn’t actually end until Feb. 2. The day is known as el Dia de la Candelaria, or Candlemas in English. According to The Yucatan Times, it is based in the Catholic faith, commemorating the ritual purification of Mary 40 days after Jesus’ birth, at which point baby Jesus would have been taken to the temple to be blessed. Now, people dress up figures of Jesus in special outfits and take them to church to be blessed. Often, celebrations with family and friends also happen, usually with lots of food like tamales. And sometimes regions put on big fiestas with parades and bullfights. It’s kind of considered to be a follow-up to Three Kings Day.

March-April: La Semana Santa

This is a week-long celebration that takes place in the week prior to Easter, known as Holy Week. According to USC Annenberg Media, in Spain, processions take place following the events of the Passion of the Christ. Some cities hold large festivals which include music and special foods as well. In Mexico, students and workers often get some time off around the Holy Week. Palm fronds are used to kick off the celebrations, and there are often reenactments of the Crucifixation, the most famous of which happens east of Mexico City. On Good Friday, a kind of bread pudding is served to participants. In Guatemala, the celebrations incorporate both Catholic and Mayan aspects. A big part of it is the use of sawdust carpets, called alfombras, which are walked on during processions. In Brazil, one of the most notable events that takes place at the largest open air theater in the world, the New Jerusalem Theatre. A performance of the Passion of the Christ has happened there since 1951. Brazil is also one of the only Latin American countries that uses chocolate eggs to celebrate.

Un cristiano carga una cruz mientras representa la crucificcin de Cristo en Iztapalapa, en las afueras de la Ciudad de Mxico, el viernes 2 de abril de 2021, en medio de la nueva pandemia de coronavirus. Para ayudar a prevenir la propagacin del COVID-19, la recreacin ms famosa de Amrica Latina de la crucifixin de Cristo se cerr al pblico y se transmiti en vivo para que la gente pudiera verla en casa, por segundo ao consecutivo. (AP Foto/Marco Ugarte) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

May 5: Cinco de Mayo (Mexico)

Cinco de Mayo is a popular holiday that honors Mexican culture, food and traditions, while also commemorating a historic day. However, that day is not Independence Day, which most believe; Mexico’s Independence Day is actually Sept. 16. Cinco de Mayo delineates the battle fought with the French Inquisition in the city of Puebla, near Mexico City, on May 5, 1862. The U.S. military provided weapons to help Mexico defend against the French. It’s actually not as hyped up in Mexico as it is in the U.S., though parades and reenactments do usually take place in Puebla.

Hispanic Heritage Month Moment: Cinco De Mayo

Oct. 12: Dia de la Hispanidad (Spain)

The official public holiday in Spain that mirrors Columbus Day in the U.S. is actually called Fiesta Nacional de España, but is often called Dia de la Hispanidad. Because it falls on the same day as its Armed Forces Day, there’s a large military parade in Madrid, according to Enforex. One of Spain’s most popular festivals, Fiesta del Pilar, also happens this day. In other Latin American countries, the day is largely called El Día de la Raza, which is celebrated slightly differently in different countries. In general, most of the celebrations focus on the culture, history and indigenous people of the areas.

Nov. 2: Dia de los Muertos (Mexico)

On this day, also called Day of the Dead, Mexican families welcome back the souls of their dead loved ones for a reunion celebration with lots of food and drink. Family members leave food and other significant items of their lost loved one on altars called ofrendas in their homes. Festivals often utilize lots of music, skull masks and costumes and this is where the sugar skull came into popularity. Dia de Todos los Santos occurs the day before.

Esta fotografa del domingo 1 de noviembre de 2020 muestra la fotografa del doctor Guillermo Flores, quien falleci por sntomas relacionados con el COVID-19, en una ofrenda del Da de los Muertos colocada por su esposa, Alexandra Valverde en su casa de la Ciudad de Mxico. (AP Foto/Eduardo Verdugo) (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Dec. 16-24: Las Posadas (Mexico, Central America)

Las Posadas means ‘the lodgings’. The nine days leading up to Christmas signify the journey Mary and Joseph took before the birth of Jesus. In Mexico, each night, there’s a designated house and a group representing Mary and Joseph. The group is denied housing at several homes before reaching the designated house, at which point they enter and prayer, song and other festivities take place. It continues each night with a different designated home.

The tradition of las posadas and how it originated

About the Author:

Tara Evans is an executive producer and has been with News 6 since January 2013. She currently spearheads News 6 at Nine and specializes in stories with messages of inspiration, hope and that make a difference for people -- with a few hard-hitting investigations thrown in from time to time.