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Celebrating the New Year in Pre-Hispanic Mexico

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Huehues in Yauhquemehcan, Tlaxcala
Credit: Jorge Luis Iriberri | Wikimedia Commons
Maria and Fernando Garibay Bloggers at Expats In Mexico
Maria and Fernando Garibay

Celebrating the new year in pre-Hispanic Mexico was very different than how we now celebrate New Year’s.

As we begin 2017, we have another opportunity to start over, to look back on our lives, to do an evaluation, to make our weak points stronger and our strong points even stronger. To continue growing and making our lives more meaningful and richer each and every day.

Back in the day, when Mayans an Aztecs lived in what we now call Mexico, they performed ceremonies, rituals and very solemn sacrifices to thank the gods for the beginning of a new era. Fire was a fundamental part in all of them because fire was their purifying element.

Fire and also the awareness of their environment have continued in the celebration of the new year in modern day Mexico. We have learned the following information from Mexico’s National Council for Culture and the Arts (CONACULTA):

  • The lighting of “lumbradas” is done every January 1st in various regions of Mexico, such as Ixmiquilpan, Hidalgo and the main social nucleus of the Otomí of the Mezquital Valley. Each of the 50 indigenous districts of Ixmiquilpan lights a bonfire in the crenellated atrium of the former Augustinian convent of San Miguel Arcángel. This activity is also carried out on February 2nd in the northern region of Michoacán, land of the Purépecha.
  • The Totonacos of Veracruz perform a ritual involving the healers of the community and the offering of chicken blood, tamales, bread and flowers to the ancient gods.
  • In Oaxaca, the young zoques disguise themselves as “huehues” (old), “burn” the old year and then go to celebrate the houses of the community. In other towns, the old ones use rockets to illuminate the sky and watch it closely as the new year arrives to see if it will be a year of rain or drought.
  • The cabañuelas are of great importance in rural Mexico. The name comes from the sixteenth month of the Mayan calendar, Caban, and refers to the detailed observation of the time of the initial 12 days of the year, in order to predict the weather conditions for the following 12 months. It is known that this system of observation, which seems so empirical, was used by the oldest cultures of mankind: Babylon and Israel.

Indigenous tribes keep their own account of years and celebrate their New Year’s on different dates. In the desert of Sonora, in the North of Mexico, they celebrate New Year’s the 30th of June and 1st of July. Likewise, in Santiago Tuxtla and Veracruz, the new Mesoamerican year celebrates the first coming of March by means of a ritual ceremony of offering to the Sun.

So, in Mexico we celebrate the new year with beliefs that link us with other cultures of the world and rituals that keep us connected to our past. Whether it is a massive party with fireworks and music, at home with the whole family or on a beautiful Mexican Caribbean beach with friends, what is most enjoyed on this date is the warmth that characterizes the Mexican people. Hugging, sharing and caring are the way to welcome the new year.

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