Mexico's Bicentennial Independence Celebrations

by Judy King 15. September 2010 10:27

Outabout7hidalgo The 16th of September of 1810 marked the beginning of Mexico's struggle for independence from Spain. While the United State's July 4 celebration is termed Independence Day, and Canada's July 1 celebration of unity is called Canada Day, Mexico's September celebrations are las fiestas patrias.

Mexico's war for freedom began several months earlier than planned when organizers realized that information had been leaked to the Spanish. Near midnight on September 15, 1810, Father Miguel Hidalgo, the parish priest of Dolores, Guanajuato, summoned the townspeople to the church and spoke passionately, urging the farmers to take up arms against Spain.

This cry for freedom, El Grito de Dolores, is re-enacted at 11 PM on September 15 in the town square of the towns and villages across the republic. While Hidalgo's speech was not recorded for posterity, a celebratory address of patriotism is presented by the President of Mexico, the governor of each state, and the highest ranking official of each pueblo.

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Custom and legend causes each speech to conclude with a series of cries for unity believed to include some of the thoughts that the Father of the Mexican independence uttered in his original grito and the people respond to each cry with a resounding VIVA!

Viva Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Long Live Our Lady of Guadalupe) 

Viva las Americas (Long Live the Americas)

Viva México! (Long Live Mexico)

The grito, dancing, and other activities on the night of September 15 are the prelude to Mexico's Independence Day. Based on publicity North of the Border, many North Americans assume that Mexico's independence celebration is the 5th of May. Cinco de Mayo commemorates the victory of 4,000 Mexican soldiers over 8,000 of Napoleon III's best-trained French forces in the city of Puebla—in 1862. Although it was a triumphant victory for Mexican soldiers, the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, was waged 51 years after the last of the defeated Spanish forces left Mexico.

Following Hidalgo's cry for freedom, which was also a cry for the end of slavery and independence, the village priest led the townspeople from the small church waving a banner bearing the likeness of the country's patron, the Virgin of Guadalupe. By the end of the first month thousands of untrained but determined farmers and workers had taken up the fight.

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In Chapala and Ajijic the 16 de septiembre (16th of September) mid-morning parades feature the area's charros (working horsemen) who still ride under the banner of the Virgin of Guadalupe and the Mexican flag. In the days of Spanish rule, only the wealthy, upper class landowners were allowed to ride horses—and of course their serf-like workers, who broke, trained and cared for the livestock. It was the skills of the charros who changed the balance of power during this and following wars.

honor-guard DCP_8640 Thousands of Lakeside school children are an important part of the celebration of their nation's freedom. Pristinely dressed in their school uniforms, they all march in parades in Chapala, San Antonio Tlayacapan, Ajijic, San Juan Cosalá and Jocotepec.

Children are featured participants in many of the activities on September 15 and 16. A time-honored tradition in Ajijic involves the organization of old-time games and contests for the kids. Beginning around 4 p.m. today, the games are held in the town plaza and include a greased pig contest in which the lucky boy who can catch and hold the pig can take his prize home to raise and fatten. Lard is used to coat a six meter (approximately 18 feet) high pole which is set up in the street near the plaza for the palo encebado (greased pole). Children try to shinny up the pole in order to claim donated prizes fastened at various heights and at the top. The attempts to win these contests can be hilarious and provide spectators an afternoon of old fashioned fun.


Here is a rundown of usual times of local fiestas patrias activities today and tomorrow. Remember that Lakeside’s smaller towns – San Antonio Tlayacapan, San Juan Cosalá, El Chante and San Cristobal for example will be hosting their own grito ceremonies on Saturday night and parades on Sunday.





September 15

4 p.m.

Ajijic Plaza


September 15


Stage at on Ajijic and Jocotepec Plazas and near Chapala Malecon & municipal building

Entertainment, music, dance, presentation of queen and princesses

September 15

11 p.m.

Stage areas

Grito with fireworks following

September 15


Town plazas and surrounding streets

Popular bands and dancing

September 16

9:30 or 10 a.m.

Jocotepec, Chapala and Ajijic

Parades ending at plazas

September 16

After parade

City plazas

Honors to Flag

September 16


Lienzo Charro rings in Ajijic, Jocotepec and Chapala

Charro events (rodeos)

September 16


Plaza in Ajijic

War of Flowers -- Patrias Queen promenades in the plaza, as the people strew confetti and flowers

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One of the great disappointments during this and other Mexican holidays is the lack of foreigners participating in the events. All of the special activities of the fiestas patrias are great fun, colorful photo opportunities, and a way for us to demonstrate our unity with our Mexican neighbors.

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.


9/15/2010 5:10:06 PM #

Judy, thanks for setting the record straight about cinco de mayo vs. 16 de septiembre.

I can guess where you are right now. As for many of us foreigners in Mexico, "¡somos viejos!" and midnight is simply past our bedtime. lol.

Eileen Mexico |

9/16/2010 9:58:57 AM #

I WISH I could be there!

Vandy United States |

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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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