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Travel in Latin America

The History of Mexican Fiesta
By:Amy Jorgensen

The word "fiesta" is of Spanish origin and is an integral part of the Spanish culture and heritage. Fiestas aren't just a specialty of Spain but are celebrated in all the major Spanish-speaking countries of the world. Fiestas are festivals commemorating religious and national holidays such as saints' days.

The Traditional Fiesta
Traditionally fiestas are large public events that bring together an entire community in a celebratory mood. A typical fiesta will include parades, beauty pageants, various contests, competitive sports like football, fireworks, lots of singing, dancing and music and traditional food. People dress up in ethnic and elaborate costumes. Colorful decorations are put up, including lanterns, lights and streamers. Religious festivals include candles and praying. Village fiestas also feature bull or cock fighting.

Defining the Mexican Culture
A big part of Central America, including Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Paraguay, were under Spanish and Portuguese rule for nearly 300 years. The years of colonization left a significant impact on the culture of the region. Mexican culture is a unique blend of the Spanish culture and its own pre-colonization culture that comes from the great civilizations of the Mayas, Aztecs and Toltecs. A clear reflection of this is the Mexican fiesta; though inherited from the Spanish, it has its own unique identity.

Traditional Mexican Fiestas
Mexicans celebrate all major national and religious holidays with elaborate fiestas. Some major festivals are Independence Day, which is celebrated on Sept. 16; Guadalupe Day, which celebrates the patron saint of Mexico; Las Posadas, commemorating Joseph and Mary's search for shelter in Bethlehem; Nochebuena, which means "holy night" and is celebrated on the Christmas Eve; and Navidad, i.e. Christmas and Ano Nuevo, which is New Year's celebrations. In addition, each Mexican city and town has its own patron saint and celebrates its saint's day once a year. A unique feature to the Mexican fiesta is the pinata. Made of papier mache, it is filled with candy, toys and gifts and is then hung up high from the ceiling or a tree branch. People take turns hitting it while blindfolded until it breaks open and the gifts inside fall out.

Family Fiestas
A fiesta brings people together in celebration. It is not only restricted to bigger national holidays or city celebrations. Mexicans also use fiestas to celebrate family occasions. These include birthdays, weddings, births, baptisms and family reunions.

International Influence
The fiesta has pretty much become a cultural ambassador for Mexico in the world and is a key attraction for those visiting Mexico. Fiestas are also gaining popularity in the United States not only in the areas bordering Mexico but across the country through the Mexican people who are a part of the American society. Some American cities have their own Mexican fiestas now, featuring an interesting mix of the Mexican and American cultures.

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