Festivals spice Mexico's seasonal calendar

MEXICO CITY -- Mexico may be popular for its beaches, but for visitors who appreciate culture and local celebrations, the country offers a wealth of travel opportunities.

The following is a rundown of some of Mexico's more popular festivals through the end of the winter season. Unless otherwise noted, the festivals take place nationwide.

January

  • Jan. 15 to 23, Feast of St. Sebastian the Martyr (Fiesta de San Sebastian Martir), Chiapa de Corzo, Chiapas.
  • The third week in January in Chiapa de Corzo features an elaborate show of folklore festivals, regional costumes, wigs and masks and a reenactment of a naval battle on the river Grijalva. These ceremonies last three days and conclude with a fireworks display.

    As for local food specialties, travelers shouldn't miss butifarra, the dried sausage originating in Chiapas; the famous tamales de chipil made from an aromatic Mexican herb, and the sweet potato candy known as suspiros.

    February

  • Feb. 2, Candlemas (Fiesta de la Calendaria).
  • Tiny dolls representing the Christ child are blessed at churches and social gatherings throughout Mexico.

    The most famous celebration, which includes a colorful procession, takes place in Xochimilco in Mexico City.

  • Feb. 14, Valentine's Day (Dia del Amor y la Amistad).
  • This is a day for lovers to celebrate their affection for each other with gifts of chocolate. The history of chocolate begins in Mexico with the legend of Quetzalcoatl, the god of light, who descended upon the Toltecs of Mexico and gave them the mystical cacao tree.

    In 1519, a Mexican Aztec ruler served Spanish explorer Hernan Cortes xocoatl, a chocolate drink derived from the cocoa bean.

    Cortes brought the cocoa bean to Spain, and soon afterwards, chocolate became a fashionable food throughout Europe and the world.

    March

  • March 5, Carnaval.
  • Officially celebrated the five days before Lent, Carnaval's lively celebrations of parades, floats and dances mark the last opportunity for Catholics to indulge in temporal pleasures before the 40 days of fasting during Lent.

    Participants wear masks and dance in the streets of port towns such as Ensenada, La Paz, Veracruz, Mazatlan, Merida and Cozumel. It is common for musicians from Cuba and Belize to perform in Cozumel.

  • March 17, Feast of St. Joseph (Dia de San Jose).
  • This festival is celebrated throughout Mexico with music, processions, dances, fireworks and fairs.

  • March 21, spring equinox (a national holiday), Chichen Itza.
  • Thousands gather at Chichen Itza on the Yucatan peninsula for the spring equinox. Visitors come to see the afternoon shadow of the snake-god Kukulcan slowly descend upon the country's biggest Mayan pyramid, known as El Castillo. While waiting, visitors are entertained by traditional dances and celebrations.

  • March 23 to April 13, Historic Center Festival, Mexico City.
  • This three-week cultural celebration features concerts, theater, art exhibits, seminars, dance, food and activities for children.

    It is held in Mexico City's Historic Center. Monuments such as El Templo Mayor, the Zocalo, Santo Domingo, Plaza Tolsa and Alameda Park serve as the backdrop for these celebrations.

    April

  • April 8 to 15, Easter Week (Semana Santa), San Juan Chamula in Chiapas, San Luis Potosi in San Luis Potosi, Taxco in Guerrero, Zacatecas in Zacatecas and Iztapalapa in Mexico City.
  • These cities are famous for their religious processions, some of which include reenactments of the Stations of the Cross.

  • April 9 to 16, Fair of the Most Beautiful Flower of the Ejido (Feria de la Flor Mas Bella del Ejido), Xochimilco, Mexico City.
  • This fair includes a beauty contest; culinary events; agriculture; cattle and handicrafts exhibitions, and a contest for the best decorated trajinera (gondola-type boats that travel the Xochimilco canals).

    For further information, call (800) 44-MEXICO.

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