Sunday, October 22, 2017

CULTURE SHOCK LESSONS #105: Moving to Mexico--Holiday Noise, Holiday Delays, Holiday Festivities!

And So Many Holidays!

One of Many Altars for Dia de Muertos, Day of the Dead

     Mexico celebrates many more holidays than the countries north of the border. Holidays are festive times, right? So, why is this something that can create culture shock? Let me try to explain with some examples.

Many Holidays are Unique to Mexican Culture
Dia de Muertos, a very festive time in Mexico, means literally, Day of the Dead. A festival that revolves around death? I didn’t understand it for years.
The celebrations last for several days, from October 31 through November 2. This is a time when families and friends celebrate, inviting the souls of those who have died to join them on earth. A large part of this celebration takes place in the cemetery at the loved one’s grave. Food, alcohol, candles, flowers, and other gifts are placed on the grave, offered to bring the soul to earth. The family members will have a picnic at the grave, eating a meal and drinking beer. The belief is that their departed love ones’ souls join them to share this meal. This was difficult for me to understand when we first started traveling to Mexico. In the United States, in non-Hispanic cultures, when we visit a grave-site, we feel sadness at the loss of our loved ones, certainly not a festive joy.
After living in this beautiful country for some time now, I have come to see this festival as a celebration of life, a time to remember and honor the people who have passed from this earth. The town plazas become a place where many colorful alters are built with flowers, food offerings, candles, sand and rocks, personal articles, and photographs, each honoring a deceased person. Music and entertainment fill the downtown with people mingling and strolling through the path between alters, admiring the artwork of each memorial, then moving on to enjoy the festivities. Later in the night, a long line of quiet Mexicans can be seen walking from the plaza, through downtown and neighborhoods, to the cemetery, each carrying a lighted candle.
     When first experienced, it appears that Dia de Muertos revolves around death. Now I see that this celebration is a healthy way to remember the life of departed loved ones.
Parade for Dia del Niño (Day of the Child)

     Dia del Niño, Day of the Child, is also unique to Mexican culture, and a very big deal in the town we live in. The main street into downtown is closed for hours for a parade and it seems the whole town turns out to watch the children dressed in costumes, riding in floats that cruise the streets around the plaza. It is a lively, happy festival with the crowd filling the plaza and spilling into the streets. Two young children dressed as the King and Queen of the day ride in their own fancy float. They help throw treats including balls and hula hoops to children and adults alike.
      I am impressed with how much attention and love the children receive in this culture. To set aside an entire day to honor the children and to make them feel special is unlike anything I’ve seen in the United States. It is a joy to watch. It is also wise to plan your day so as to avoid driving through town, taking laundry to the lavandería, or shopping for groceries while the festivities are happening, at least in our town. We soon learned that the roads will be blocked for hours on Dia del Niño, so we might as well find a taco stand, settle in for some fish tacos and a drink, and enjoy the show!
Our Lady of Guadalupe Festivities Last for Days

Holiday Noise Can Be Disturbing & Can Last for Days
     In addition to all of the fun things such as parades, bands playing music in the plaza, residents and tourists dancing around the band, cowboys riding dancing horses, and children in costumes, there is an amazing amount of noise that reverberates across the town during holidays. Some holidays are accompanied by more noise than others, but for me, the holiday that was the most shocking was Our Lady of Guadalupe. The first year we lived there, I was startled awake by cannons going off downtown at 5:00AM to call the Catholics to church. Bella was barking and I wondered what the sound was, so loud we heard it clearly a half-mile away. I had just calmed her down and fallen back asleep, when the next cannon went off at 5:30AM. Another round of barking and falling asleep only to be jolted awake at 6:00 by a third cannon shot. By then, Jon and I realized it must be cannons calling the Catholics to come to church for a service. That day, I asked around town to find out that each day during the week leading up to Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12 begins with cannons and church bells! Each evening ends with fireworks. 
     All of this early morning and late-night noise was culture shock at first. By the fifth or sixth morning, I didn’t hear the cannons explode at all. I slept right through the sounds, and so did Bella.
Preparing the Lady of Guadalupe Float for our Barrio

     The evening festivities for Our Lady of Guadalupe are colorful and entertaining, including children dressed in traditional costumes, dancing to the beat of drums, proceeding through the closed streets downtown. Each night a different float is included in the parade around the plaza. In our town, each of the barrios (neighborhoods) is assigned one evening of the festival to display their float. We had just moved into our new casita when one evening we noticed a crowd in front of our house, gathered around a large flatbed truck. As I watched, the children and adults chatted and worked together to create our neighborhood’s float on the back of the truck. Many were working to decorate the truck, transforming it into a beautiful float. Women were dressing the children as angels, wise men, the Virgin Mary, and other characters to fulfill the theme of their float. Excitement filled the air as the costumed children were lifted onto the float and helped into their assigned positions. It was fun to watch, a real community project. When the parade organizer gave the order, the float rolled away, driving toward the downtown plaza with a crowd of proud parents, grandparents, siblings, and neighbors walking along behind.
     Then the fireworks begin around 10:00PM. They can be heard all over town, startling us awake again, if we decided to go to bed early that night. Bella barks furiously. Other dogs can be heard barking in the neighborhood. When it finally quiets, I think, “Best if we get some sleep because this will start all over again at 5:00AM tomorrow.

Holidays with Loud Music All Night
A Wedding Procession through San Miguel de Allende

     There are many other holidays when fireworks and cannons are shot into the air in the evening, and then loud music and the fiesta begins, many times lasting until dawn. Often, we don’t even know what the holiday is. Sometimes there are fireworks after a wedding in our town. In San Miguel de Allende we saw a parade through town for a wedding, the bride, groom and many guests led by tall caricatures of a bride and groom, other guests riding in fancy horse-drawn carts through the steep cobblestone roads. It was enjoyable to sit at a sidewalk café and watch the happy people stroll down the narrow streets, drinking champagne, and toasting the new couple. What a fun, lively way to celebrate, so different from any I’ve seen north of the border.
Musicians in the Plaza May Play Late into the Night 

     Yet, we know the parade through town is just the beginning of the fiesta. We’re always glad we live in the quieter outskirts of town, far from the venues where the rest of the party occurs, with a band, disc jockey, or recorded music playing loudly through large speakers, and the guests enjoying elaborate meals, limitless drinks, and dancing until the early hours of morning. Once I went to the plaza at 6:00 AM to see how many people were still partying to the music continuing to blare from the speakers. That’s when I learned that just because the guests have all gone home doesn’t mean the music will be turned off.
     In addition to the holidays for saints and other church traditions, there are parades and celebrations in the streets for Mexican Revolution Day on November 20th. Emiliano Zapata's Birthday August 8, provides another reason for boisterous, noisy celebration, as he was a leading figure in the Mexican Revolution. Día de la Independencia, Independence Day in Mexico, celebrates the “cry of independence” on September 16. The “bombs”, cannon booms, go off frequently for anything having to do with Revolutions and Independence.
There are also large parties for Quinceañeras (coming out at a 15-years old girl’s birthday), smaller, yet elaborate baby showers, and fancy birthday parties for young children that morph into loud music, drinking, and dancing late into the evening. The loud music can be heard blocks away and may last until 5:00AM. The Mexican people love their fiestas and know how to stretch them out and extend their fun! 
Those of us who have moved to Mexico to enjoy all of its benefits must learn to adapt to the differences. Ear plugs are a necessity, sometimes even sound-cancelling headsets.

Holidays Cause Delays
Holidays Mean Fun with Friends and Family in the Plaza

     Purchasing our home in Mexico was our biggest lesson in patience, the time when we learned that businesses, banks, and government agencies move slowly as a manner of course, “On Mexican Time”. But throw in a few holidays and the delay may be extended for months. Getting upset about the delay doesn’t make anything move faster, it just leaves you more frustrated. So, we learned to wait patiently.

The time from our offer to buy our house in late July, 2015, until the contract was compiled by the Notario (Notary) and agreed upon and signed by all parties was about three weeks. I don’t think there were any major Mexican holidays during that time, things just take time, so by then it was mid-August. An inspection by a building contractor was done and the report prepared, which we accepted by the end of August. At that time, the Title Company became involved to handle the escrow account and transfer of money, with form completion occurring over the next month. They were finally ready for our first deposit of funds at the end of September, two months after we had made an offer on the house. Our contract stated that the sale would close by November 10, 2015, but allowed for an extra ten days in case of banking or other business delays. With Dia de Muertos the first of November, which should be called the DAYS of the Dead because it can last for up to a week, the sale closed on the very last day of the deadline, November 20, but only because we insisted. November 20th is Mexican Revolution Day and everyone would have rather postponed the signing of our documents another day or two so they could go to the celebration.
Everything Stops for Parades and Festivals
But, what about getting the recorded deed? Well, allowing for many upcoming holidays, including Our Lady of Guadalupe, Christmas, New Years, Dia de Niño, Revolution Day, Semana Santa, Easter, and the week after Easter, we finally received our recorded deed over six months later, in May, 2016. That was a lesson in patience!
     I’m glad we hadn’t decided to build our home in Mexico. I hear the delays waiting for masons, plumbers/electricians, painters, roofers, and other subcontractors can really try the patience of a gringo from north of the border! Until you learn the cultural difference about setting priorities, living on Mexican time can be very frustrating.
Terry Gets in the Holiday Spirit with La Catrina

     What we’ve learned is that maybe the Mexican Nationals have their priorities straight—family and fun come first. Work can wait—it will always be there. I enjoy living “On Mexican Time” now that I’ve adjusted to it. In fact, when we return to the United States for a few months, we wonder why everyone is in such a hurry, rushing to work, rushing home, stuck in rush-hour traffic. How did we ever live like that, and for as long as we did? Life is healthier, more enjoyable, when the pace is slowed down, and we are comfortable with that slower pace.

     Read more about culture shock and the fun of moving to Mexico in this eBook, "Living in Mexico, Lessons Learned: Healthy Living in Mexico #3".  Have you read the other four books in the series?
Available on Amazon Worldwide!

     If you haven't read "Healthy Living in Mexico #1 and #2", here are the links on Remember these are also available on,, and Amazon worldwide!
     Healthy Living and Traveling in Mexico: A Search for Sunshine, Sassy Exercise, Savory Food and a Simpler Life Kindle Edition
Healthy Living in Mexico eBook #1

     Retirement Before the Age of 59: Healthy Living in Mexico #2 Kindle Edition
Healthy Living in Mexico #2

To sign up for my "Healthy Living and Traveling in Mexico Monthly Newsletter", click HERE