¡VIVA! The Fairs and Festivals of Mexico

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 6.18.52 PMBy Carole Reedy

From sculptures made of radishes and a mole fiesta to religious and civil ceremonies, your travels in the republic of Mexico will be rich with the joy and excitement felt by all at the annual fairs and festivals. Every year, all the towns in Mexico, no matter how small, celebrate their saint’s day with a feria or festival, centered on days and sometimes weeks of celebration. Here we’ll look at a few of the more popular fairs to whet your appetite. Join in the fun. The people of México love to share their traditions and gastronomic treasures with foreigners. You will be welcomed warmly.

¡Viva Aguascalientes!

This is the shout you’ll hear constantly during the month-long celebrations at the granddaddy of all the fairs, the Feria de San Marcos, held in Aguascalientes (the capital of the state of the same name) from mid-April to mid-May each year. April 25th is the Día de San Marcos, with more celebration taking place on this date, culminating in a grand parade through town. At every fair you’ll find music, regional food, and cultural events, but in Aguascalientes everything is the biggest and best. This year’s festival boasted 15 corridas de toros (bullfights) along with chareadas (a form of rodeo), sports such as baseball and soccer, and dozens of cultural events including chamber music, a symphony orchestra, theater, rock opera (Dr. Frankenstein), art exhibits, and every type of music you can imagine. A great many of these events are gratis.

The grand fairs of Mexico all have one thing in common: A Palenque. This is a nightly venue for some of Mexico’s finest popular entertainers. The evening starts about 8:00 pm with cockfights in a center ring, seating all around. Professional gambling on the cocks takes place within the ring as men dressed in tuxedos gather the bets. In the crowd, small-time wagers are made among old and newly made friends. Even if you don’t bet, it’s sheer entertainment to watch the crowd and the owners of the cocks sitting in the front row of the ring, drinking brandy or whiskey on ice and making bets on their own birds. Each cock fight lasts just a few minutes. A warning: they are not for the faint of heart.

Following the spectacle, at 11:00 pm or midnight the music entertainment begins. In Aguascalientes this year, Alejandro Fernandez, Gloria Trevi, and Juan Gabriel among other famous cantantes sang their hearts out to sold-out performances. Tickets for the concerts can run as high as $200 USD, with scalper prices at $400 USD.

But in addition, the Aguascalientes fair provides top-of theline free entertainment. Each night this year there were free outdoor concerts with headliners such as Tania Libertad, Kalimba, El Tri, Ha Hash, and Oaxaca’s darling Lila Downs.

Food Galore! There are puestos (food stands) and restaurants everywhere you turn in the city. Specialties include arrachera (marinated flank steak), which a Mexican friend said was the best he’d ever had, carnitas (pork) tacos, as well as those yummy red quesadillas from San Luis Potosi (made with chile tortillas). Beer, wine, and liquor stands dominate, and the partying goes on until 4:00 am each morning. Apart from clothing stalls and other souvenir booths, there are cultural expositions. Walk and keep on walking–in each block something will surprise you.

With all this excitement and imbibing, and more than a million visitors each year, you may wonder how safe it is. This fair is extremely well organized–the streets are clean, the food and souvenir stalls in order, and the security efficient. There are paramedics and police in sight at all times, and information is readily available. Just ask anyone involved in the fair, and they’ll be happy to help you find your way. Taxi drivers are extremely amiable and one of the best resources for all the ins and outs, from the weather to traffic situations, hot concerts, availability of tickets, and town gossip and history.

Carnivals

Just as New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro have carnivals in February before Lent (depending on what day Easter falls), some of the grandest fiestas in México take place at this time, most notably in Mazatlán and the port of Veracruz City.

Cervantino International Festival

Citizens worldwide swarm to the quaint cobblestoned streets and tranquil jardin of the colonial city of Guanajuato every October for the most important cultural event in Mexico. And now many of the events spill over into the popular nearby National Historic Monument city of San Miguel de Allende. World-famous chamber ensembles, opera, theater, electronic and classical music, jazz, poetry, art exhibitions, and dance groups are all part of the program during the month. th This year the Cervantino will celebrate its 40 anniversary. October 3 to 21 are the dates, so make your reservations in advance as the small city of Guanajuato fills up fast.

Guelaguetza of Oaxaca City

Although the actual Guelaguetza folklórica dances, celebrating the seven regions of Oaxaca, are held the last two Mondays of July (with two performances each Monday, 10 am and 5 pm), the entire month of July is a party in the capital city. Walk through town and you’ll come upon dancers performing to the folkloric tunes, dressed in traditional costumes. There are many cultural events throughout the month at different venues. While staying with a friend one July, at all times day and night we’d hear commotion in the streets, often prompting us to throw a coat over our pajamas and run out to find music and dancing.

Flower Covered Streets

Yes, literally seven kilometers of the streets of central Huamantla, Tlaxcala, are covered with flowers on the night of August 14 during the celebration of their Virgin de Caridad. Citizens begin creating their elaborate designs on the streets earlier that day for viewing that evening until four in the morning of Aug 15, when they carry a wooden statue of their beloved Virgin through the streets. This evening is called La Noche que Nadie Duerme (the night that no one sleeps), and it is a night filled with celebration and fireworks. During the the entire month of August, usually from the 8 to the 24 , the city is alive with rodeos, bullfights, puppet shows, art exhibits, and entertainment.

Expect the Unexpected

As on any travel adventure, the unexpected, unexplained, and unplanned usually turn out to be highlights, and nowhere is this more prominent than in the ferias de México. You can read all the guidebooks and articles, but nothing can prepare you for the uplifting feeling of Mexicans in celebration. As we piled into a taxi at midnight in Aguascalientes, exhausted after a full day of sightseeing, toros, tacos, and Tania’s concert, the falsetto tones of the 1950s song “Earth Angel” filled the taxi from the driver’s CD player. Now where did that come from?

Carole Reedy lives in Mexico City and tries to visit as many fairs as she can each year. She is happy to answer any questions you may have. carolina_reedy@yahoo.com

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