No One is as Special as Mexican Moms

by Judy King 9. May 2010 12:06

mother-daughter Mother's Day is the high point of May, the month of back-to-back holidays in Mexico. In fact, Mother's Day is the high point of the year in this land of fiestas, holidays and events. It's a day of music, family, gifts, flowers, dance, and an intense adoration for Mom.

Mother's Day is always May 10 in Mexico, and while business is brisk for gift shops, florists, musicians, restaurants, and card sellers, no one in this land would ever dream of suggesting that Mother's Day is commercialized.

Mother's Day is A Gift of Flowers
Those who can afford to purchase flowers or gifts or a special meal always buy the best they can and the most they can—and like the boy in the photo, they'll spend their last peso with joy, for their mother. Watching him was as good as a Mother’s Day gift a few years ago. He gathered the cast-off flowers with broken stems that the florists set aside and grouped them into a bouquet. Then he counted his coins and made the clip_image003vendors an offer that included a "good rose" to place in the center.

The children who don't have enough for a bouquet and who haven't made a gift at school for their moms find a few pesos for a single clavel (carnation) or rosa (rose) or importantly take their mothers to the plaza where they buy them a paleta (popsicle). Teens pool their resources at the papelería so they can buy enough paper to make huge crepe paper flowers, or a dozen balloons and some string to create decorations, and markers to draw flowers on hand made cards.

The young women of the family spend the day shooing mom from the kitchen where they are laughing and singing along with the radio, making dozens of tamales and cool aguas frescas (fresh fruit drinks) to feed the whole family that will gather by mid-afternoon.

No matter the level of the year's budget, there is always enough money to make a fiesta for mamá, with the whole family working on the plans together.

Mother's Day is a Gift of Familyclip_image004
Mexican families plan far in advance to be at home with their mothers on their special day. Many men who work North of the Border come home in May to be with their own mothers and the mothers of their children.

I wondered at breakfast yesterday why my favorite waiter wasn’t on duty, until he showed up at the restaurant, all dressed up, and with his mother on his arm. After introducing his mother and father to his co-workers, employers and regular customers, they settled at a table and ordered breakfast. These parents had come from Tjuana to spend Mother’s Day with him in Ajijic.

Mother's Day is A Gift of Dance
Mexican schools plan enormous fiestas for the students' mothers. When Mother's Day falls during the week, the event is held on the holiday. Just watching as the mothers and children walk to and from school is fun. Most of the mothers are all dressed up and many of the children arrive at school wearing costumes in which they will perform Mexico's folkloric dances.

clip_image005Children learn a new folk dance in each new grade, beginning in kinder when the little boys learn Michoacán's “Dance of the Old Men.” As they grow up, they learn increasingly difficult dances like the Jarabe Tapatío (Mexican Hat Dance), and the dances of other states as well as traditional indigenous dances.

As the Mother's Day program continues, children read poems they have written, teachers give speeches about the wonder of mothers, and the mothers are presented with the gifts their children have made in class.

Periodically, mothers are awarded prizes from an ongoing raffle. Sets of drinking glasses, plastic containers, and insulated coffee mugs are well received with murmurs of pleasure as the tension builds leading to the announcement of the winner of the grand prize. Weeks earlier the mothers sold raffle tickets for a DVD player, now it turns out that the tickets allow them to win one of the smaller gifts, too.

Two Mother’s Day Program Videos

I particularly enjoyed the following UTube videos of the littlest school kids performing in their Mothers Day programs. In the first piece a class of young children perform the Mexican Hat Dance – it’s the state dance of Jalisco. 

In the second, once the kids had finished singing “Las Mañanitas” for their moms, they did a heart-felt “SSSSSSS, Boom Bah, Rah, Rah Rah, Who do we love? MOM!”

clip_image009Mother's Day Is Not Only for the Living
Anna Jarvis' original concept was to honor the memory of her own and other deceased mothers on Mother's Day. Fifty years ago North of the Border, deceased mothers were honored by their children wearing white flowers in corsages or boutonnieres on Mother's Day. Those whose mothers were alive wore red or pink. That custom has now faded away in most areas. .

Mexico's mothers who are deceased are remembered by their children and grandchildren who visit the cemetery with flowers and attend special Masses there on the evening of May 9, Mother’s Day eve. Other Masses for the dead mothers are held during the day on Mother's Day.

clip_image010Mother's Day Is For the Mother of Mexico
A remarkable Mother's Day custom in Mexico is the celebration of Masses to honor The Virgin of Guadalupe. After the special services  held on Mother's Day in churches all across this country and in many cities across the United States for the Virgin Mary in her role as the Mother of Mexico, her images are banked with floral gifts.

Mothers (and fathers) gather with their children to honor the Virgin Mary who appeared on a mountain top near Mexico City in 1531, saying, "Am I not here, am I not your Mother?"

Since that day, Mexicans have loved not one but two mothers. One mother is shared with their brothers; the other is shared with God and their countrymen.

In a variation of "Las Mañanitas" sung to the Virgin of Guadalupe the last verse says it all for most Mexicans:

For the moon I’d give a peso, For the sun, I’d give a half

For my mother, and the Virgin, My life and my heart!

With sentiment like that, is it any wonder that Mother’s Day is Mexico’s biggest celebration of the year?

Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

Mexico Mother’s Day is a Gift of Music

by Judy King 8. May 2010 08:23

calendar-trioMother's Day in Mexico is always on May 10 in Mexico – no matter what day of the week that is. While restaurants are packed for the mid-afternoon meal and florists sell every arrangement they can design, nothing says “I Love You” or “Thank You Mom” like the serenada de las Madres (serenade for the mothers) featuring “Las Mañanitas”.

For Mother's Day, the music begins early, very early—well actually this popular remembrance for mom keeps local musicians criss-crossing the streets of Mexico’s villages all through the night of May 9. and lasts all day long. (See mariachis surprise a family of women in this UTube video.)

"We have to start very early, it takes so much music to show how much we love our madres," said my grinning friend Miguel.

In reality the musicians begin sometime not long after midnight on the night before Mother's Day, making their rounds to first one house and another awakening mothers with the familiar strains of “Las Mañanitas” Mexico’s lovely all-purpose song for serenades, birthdays, saints day and other celebrations.

clip_image001 “How beautiful is the morning

On which I come to greet you

We all come with delight

And pleasure to salute you.

These are the sweet morning songs

That King David used to sing

To all the pretty maidens,

We now sing them for you.”

Do They Only Know One Song?

One year I was having lunch with friends in mid-May, when the newcomers in the group began complaining about hearing bands in their neighborhood all night long. After a few questions, we established that the music they'd heard had been late on May 9, the night before Mother's Day. They liked knowing that the bands were playing for the mothers in the neighborhood. We were about to explain that serenades always begin with "Las Mañanitas" when Cathy asked, "But why do all the bands only know one song?"

Families pool resources to hire the best band possible to play a serenade for mamá, even when that means that the only time the band can come is sometime between three and four in the morning or really isn’t that good at all. Quality makes little difference – it’s better to have some music than no music at all!

(Want proof of that theory? – here is a pair of a delightful videos of groups of men and boys saluting the women in lives. The first video appears to take place during a program for the moms, perhaps in a church. The next was filmed in Southern California and while the guys need copies of the song’s words, their enthusiasm and prowess builds as they sing – looks like they’ve been cooking, too. )

The families that can't afford to hire even a has-been trio for their mother's serenade do the next best thing. They bring out the old guitar and play and sing the song themselves, the way their mom loves it best, in their own sweet harmony. Or…they carefully align a CD in the boom box or turn up the volume on the  cell phone so that they can press "play" just as mom snaps on the kitchen light to prepare the family's breakfast.

“I wish I could be a sunbeam

To shine in through your window 

And say to you, “Good Morning, Happy day”

While you were still snuggled in your bed.

Some years I've been roused from sleep a dozen times or more during the night of May 9th, as various musical groups with varying levels of expertise, talent, and inebriation visited houses in my neighborhood to begin Mother's Day with music.

mariachi04 153 The Origin of this Custom?

I have a nagging suspicion that this romantic way to celebrate Mother’s Day may have had a more practical origin. Can’t you just see it? Years and years ago, the bartender was trying to get the last patrons out of the cantina at closing time on the night before Mother's Day. Just as José staggered through the door, he said to his compadres Chuy, Pepe and Juan, “Ay! I didn’t remember to buy anything for my wonderful wife for Mother’s Day, and now I've spent all but a bit of my money on tequila.”

Chuy, Pepe and Juan commiserate, noting that without gifts for their wives and mothers, they have just hours until they are in big trouble. José saved the day (and his happy home) with a brilliant idea—they hired the cantina's trio to go with them to serenade each of their wives, just like when they were courting. I don't know that this is the way it happened, but I’m willing to bet that mothers didn’t establish a tradition that would wake them up at 2, 3, or 4 in the morning for a bit of romantic music, as sweet, wonderful, and considerate as it may be.

(Javier Solis is one of Mexico’s old-time favorites – you’ll love his mellow voice in  his version of the country’s favorite song.)

Singing to the Mother of Mexico

A lovely Mother’s Day custom in Mexico includes special Masses all across the country to honor Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe. The Virgin Mary appeared as a young dark-skinned woman glowing with light near Mexico City in 1531 and said, “Would I be here if I were not your mother?” Since that day, Mexicans love two mothers. Their birth mother is shared with their brothers; the other mother is shared with God, all their countrymen and the world.

DSC00868 “For the moon I’d give a peso

For the sun, I’d give two

For my mother, and the Virgin

My life and my heart!

“Of the stars from the heavens

I should like to take down two—

One with which to greet you

And another to say good-bye.”

Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

Las Mañanitas Lyrics:

by Judy King 20. February 2010 22:09

lupita-duo   The Birthday Song…As we discussed yesterday, here in Mexico, and most of the rest of Latin America, the repeated lines of “Happy Birthday to You” loses, hands down to the lovely song for special events “Las Mañanitas.”

In yesterday’s post there are three links to You Tube and sound tracks of “Las Mañanitas” performed by various musicians including Mexico’s best mariachis and 1940s movie heart throb Pedro Infante. Today’s favorite music greats also sing and record  “Las Mañanitas.” Even Alejandro Fernandez, one of today’s favorite singers and the son of another Mexican great, Vincente Fernandez. (Alejandro is here.)

Las Mañanitas Lyrics:

Here are the lyrics of this lovely song, in both the original Spanish and in a non-literal, more song like translation.

Only these first two verses are usually used for area birthdays – both at the beginning of the party and again just before the cake is cut. Below, I’ve included some additional verses that are occasionally sung, particularly when the song is performed by mariachis, or on Mother’s Day or Saints’ Days. 

mariachis-in-tlaquepaqueEstas son las mañanitas, que cantaba el Rey David,
Hoy por ser día de tu santo**, te las cantamos a ti,
Despierta, mi bien*, despierta, mira que ya amaneció,
Ya los pajarillos cantan, la luna ya se metió.

Que linda está la mañana en que vengo a saludarte,
Venimos todos con gusto y placer a felicitarte,
El día en que tu naciste, nacieron todas las flores,
En la pila del bautismo, cantaron los ruiseñores.

These are the beautiful psalms that King David sang
Because today is your saint's day we're singing it for you
Wake up, my dear, wake up, look it is already dawn
The birds are already singing and the moon has set

How lovely is the morning in which I come to greet you
We all came with joy and pleasure to congratulate you. 
The day of your birth, the flowers were also born
At the baptismal font, the nightingales sang. 

**día de tu santo (saint’s day) is often replaced with cumpleaños (birthday)

* Mi bien (my one) is often replaced with the name of the person who is being celebrated

Learning the Song

Ajijic-TrioIf you are serious about learning the words, you may want to print this page and sing along with another old-time Mexican movie star, the Charro Cantor Jorge Negrete (1911-1953). His version is slower and the words are clearer than some of the others.  (Sing with Jorge Negrete)

Additional verses:

Here are some of the other verses, with the translations: 

Ya viene amaneciendo, ya la luz del día nos dio,
Levántate de mañana, mira que ya amaneció.

The morning is coming now, the sun is giving us its light
Get up in the morning, look it is already dawn

Quisiera ser solecito para entrar por tu ventana
y darte los buenos días acostadita en tu cama

I would like to be a sunbeam to enter through your window
to wish you good morning while you're lying in your bed

Quisiera ser un San Juan, quisiera ser un San Pedro Restaurant-Mariachis
Para venirte a cantar con la música del cielo

I would like to be a Saint John I would like to be a Saint Peter
To come to sing to you with the music of heaven

De las estrellas del cielo tengo que bajarte dos
una para saludarte y otra para decirte adiós

Of the stars in the sky I need to lower two 
One with which to greet you and the other to wish you goodbye

Con jasmines y flores hoy te vengo a saludar,
Hoy por ser día de tu santo, te venimos a cantar.

With jasmine and flowers, today I come to greet you  
Today for your saint’s day we come to you to sing. 

mariachis And More Mariachis for my birthday

I’ve lived in central Mexico for nearly 20 years…my Mexican friends say that by now I’m media-Mexicana (half Mexican). There’s nothing my “Mexican half” loves any more than good mariachis – well ok, maybe even slightly off-tune mariachis…I think it’s the blend of male voices…they remind me of the Men’s Chorus performances back in high school.

So, since today is my birthday, here’s one more sound track…this one of mariachis playing “Las Mañanitas” on the November 22 feast day of Saint Cecelia, the patron saint of musicians. This group, The Mariachi Real de Azteca de Zacatlan, is performing in the plaza de Santa Cecelia in Puebla.  Enjoy and Sing Along!

Want to Know More?

Be sure to read the February 19 post, Skip “Happy Birthday;” Give me “Las Mañanitas”

Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

Skip “Happy Birthday;” Give me “Las Mañanitas!”

by Judy King 19. February 2010 20:08

fatherI have a mission. I’m determined to help Mexico’s English-speaking residents and guests learn to recognize and appreciate the traditional celebratory song, “Las Mañanitas.”

Do you know the melody? Can you recognize it when you hear it in a restaurant or at an event? Would you have known what song the congregation was singing, accompanied by the organ and two guitars at the end of the special mass in Ajijic’s Templo de San Andrés honoring El Señor Cura Father Alfredo on his 73rd birthday this week?

There’s a You Tube clip featuring one of Mexico’s premier groups, Mariachi Vargas de Tecatitlan performing the music of “Las Mañanitas” with a slideshow featuring a birthday girl.

I see it happen all the time…a friend alerts the restaurant staff of a birthday being celebrated at the table. The waiters approach the table bearing a candle-topped piece of cake and singing the lovely lyrics of “Las Mañanitas.” “How beautiful is the morning, we’ve come to greet you, We’ve gathered with joy and pleasure to congratulate you….”

Judy-60  The friends chatter on, oblivious of the traditional music and unaware that their friend is being honored with the country’s traditional birthday song which includes a verse, “On the day you were born; also were born all the flowers. The nightingales gathered to sing at your baptismal font.”

When the waiters or musicians switch into a chorus of “Happy birthday to you…” all of the guests suddenly take note and join in the song. What shame. They don’t even know that they’ve missed participating in a lovely Mexican tradition.

I’m about to celebrate my 65th birthday (it’s my 20th celebration in Mexico) and the last thing I want to hear this weekend is the boring repeated refrain, “Happy Birthday to you.”

Think about it a minute…wouldn’t you prefer a beautiful melody and lyrics that say, “I wish I could be to be the sunbeam shining through your window. I could be the first to wish you good morning while you are asleep,” or  “Of all the stars in the sky, I need only pull down two; one with which to greet you and the other to wish you goodbye.”

judycake There are a number of verses and variations for “Las Mañanitas.” The basic verses, sometimes referred to as Mañanitas Tapitias (Guadalajara Mañanitas) are often the only verses used for birthdays. There are other variations called Mañanitas Morenitas or Virgencitas. These are designed to be sung in a just after midnight serenade for the Virgin of Guadalupe on the night of December 11-12. 


Some of the more romantic verses were written generations ago when young men turned to hiring musicians to back them as they proclaimed (through songs)  their love for carefully chaperoned young ladies.

The just-after-midnight love serenades were also called gallos (roosters) a humorous reference to the crowing and going on of young men outside the homes of young women. Both the gallos and pre-dawn birthday, saint’s day or wedding day serenades usually began (and still begin) with “Las Mañanitas.” The song’s name, literally translated is “The Sweet Little Mornings.”

By the way, while “Las Mañanitas”  signaled the beginning of a serenade, the second song is usually the famous “Cielito Lindo,” the country’s most famous declaration of love song.

Mexico Insights Spanish Tip:  

Adding “ita” to the end of a word creates a warm, sweet, loving or small aspect to the base word. Examples: Cielo (heaven or sky) Cielito (little sky- sunrise or sunset sky) Casa (house) Casita (guest house, granny flat), Abuela (Grandmother) Abuelita (Grandma or Grammy), Juana (Joan) Juanita (Joanie), Gata (Cat) Gatita (Kitty).

Heart-throb and movie star Pedro Infante of Mexico’s 1940s Golden age of Cinema sang “Las Mañanitas” in several films. We found a clip of Pedro Infante in a You Tube serenade scene from one of those movies. This scene is a serenade with a twist. (See it here.)

Mother’s Day

You’ll also hear “Las Mañanitas” performed sporadically all during the night before Mexico’s May 10 Mother’s Day as roaming bands of musicians (and children) serenade moms. These scenes are repeated in the towns, neighborhoods, and villages all over Mexico, and in the other countries where Mexicans have settled.

Días de los santos

tuba-in-churchAnother time when this traditional song is guaranteed to be featured is on the feast day of patron saints. Everyone and almost everything in Mexico and other Latin American countries has a patron. Towns host novenas (nine-day celebrations of prayer and festivities) for their patron saint – and when the band marches into the church belting out a tune, you can be sure it’ll be “Las Mañanitas.”

Santa Cecelia is the harp-playing patron saint of musicians. On her November 22 feast days, musicians gather in plazas, squares, pavilions and shrines to honor their saint with “Las Mañanitas.” A 2008 event in Los Angeles brought 100 or more mariachis together to honor Saint Cecelia with a mass performance of the traditional song.  (Click here)

The Lyrics? Tomorrow!

Are you ready to learn the lyrics of “Las Mañanitas?” Come back tomorrow, we’ll have a few more pictures and video clips of “Las Mañanitas” and the lyrics, in both Spanish and translated into English.

Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

About Judy King

Judy King

Hi There — Welcome to my little corner of the world. I'm Judy King and I live in the centuries-old village of Ajijic on the north shore of Lake Chapala, Mexico's largest natural lake.

I've lived here full time since 1990, and... [ more ]

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