El dia de la familia is a relatively new national holiday in Mexico, observed on the first Sunday of March. It was instituted by the federal government in 2005 with the signing of an agreement to promote the unity of the family. The signatories included President Vicente Fox, various units of government, universities and other educational institutions, religious groups, representatives of the media, civic organizations, and business groups. The purpose of the day is to celebrate the integral role families play in Mexican culture and more generally to reinforce the global importance of families as the nucleus of society.
The establishment of the holiday in Mexico took place more than 10 years after the United Nations encouraged member nations to celebrate an international day of the family on May 15. Although the idea had some universal appeal, unlike International Women’s Day, which is celebrated on March 5 in many countries with great fanfare, conferences, and headline results of research on women, international family day May 15 never achieved much world-wide acceptance.
However, in some Latin-American countries, including Mexico, other days were selected for such celebrations. In Argentina the day of the family is celebrated on the third Sunday of October, in Peru on the second Sunday of September, in Uruguay on Christmas.
In North America, aside from Mexico, the holiday has had luke-warm acceptance. In Canada, although there is no national Family Day, most of the population resides in one or another province that celebrates the third Monday in February as Family Day. In the US, Nevada has declared the day after Thanksgiving as Family Day, and Arizona celebrates on the first Sunday in August.
The international and Mexican promotion of the holiday are unabashedly attempts to preserve and support the continuation of traditional family structures, which statistical profiles of the population show have been experiencing world-wide shifts. Mexico is not an exception – especially in urban areas. According to a recent United Nations report, Mexican divorces are 20 times more likely to occur in urban areas than rural areas. And, although the trend appears to be reversing, migration of men from Mexico to the US to find employment has resulted in many women and children without a father in residence. Increasingly common, though – a trend that is apparent worldwide and is driven by globalization of the economy – is for families to have some members in distant locations.
In many countries, female-headed households are more likely to be living in poverty, and children in such households are at greater risk of becoming involved in self-destructive behavior. In such circumstances, the attempt to preserve traditional family structure can be economically justified.
However, in Mexico, research has shown that extended families – grandparents, aunts and uncles – compensate for the absence of fathers, and women who are heads of households in Mexico are likely to have higher education and income than women in male-headed households.
Far from supporting a holiday that they claim promotes male-headed households and traditional nuclear families, a significant number of Mexicans dismiss the Day of the Family as an ultra-conservative movement to preserve male dominance. They find the posters and publicity showing a father, mother and children as offensive. Still, 21st century technological developments have undeniably been detrimental to family communication. Computers, mobile phones, movies and other forms of entertainment streaming across individual screens are frequently the focus of attention, even when family members are in the same room.
In Mexico, the kinds of Family Day activities that are organized by municipal, state and federal government agencies can be readily justified as encouraging the wholesome development of children and teens – a large body of research demonstrates this. Family events such as bike rides, races, sporting events, communal art projects or photography competitions, amateur concerts, and picnics in parks are organized in many parts of the country and can be rewarding for all involved, especially if some of these activities continue regularly and are not just confined to Family Day. In every state in Mexico you will find agencies called DIF (Spanish acronym for Wholesome Development of Families), which function throughout the year but take a leading role in organizing events for Day of the Family. Also recommended by governmental and commercial posters and websites for Family Day is the use of modern technology such as voice or video phones communicate with absent family members.
One of our favorite Family Day celebrations was at the home of friends who over the years have become our family in Huatulco. We had a long leisurely dinner prepared and served by all members of the family, wonderful conversation including the dreams of the teens for their future, and after dinner we sang traditional songs accompanied by a very talented guitarist. In this normally frenetic world, we were so grateful for a chance to just enjoy each other’s company and relax.
This March 2, you have the opportunity for a similar event. If you have no family in the area, you might use Skype or FaceTime to touch base with family wherever they are and find out how their week has been. And, if you know a local family, don’t be shy, invite them for a picnic or a simple meal. You’ll be happy that you’ve made Mexico’s Family Day a part of your life – even if you are in some other country at the time!