Mexican Independence Day falls on September 16. It marks the day in 1810 that a Roman Catholic priest named Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, also known as Father Hidalgo, rallied his townspeople to fight for Mexico’s independence from Spain. That declaration marked the turning point in what would eventually become Mexico’s freedom from Spanish rule.
Mexican Independence Day (known in Spanish as Día de la Independencia, Fiestas Patrias, or simply 16 de septiembre) begins on September 15 just before midnight. It’s marked by fireworks, musical performances, and raucous cheering.
Let’s dig deeper into the historical and cultural context of Mexican Independence Day, and find out what modern September 16 celebrations look like inside of Mexico and out.
A brief history of Mexican Independence Day
Spain has a long history of colonization that differs from its current reputation as an easy-going western European nation. The Spanish conquest of the Aztec, Incan, and other Mesoamerican empires began around 1519, when Spanish galleons, commanded by Hernán Cortés, landed on the island of San Juan de Ulúa in search of wealth.
Less than two years after their arrival, the Spaniards took the city of Tenochtitlán from the Aztecs, which at the time was one of the most developed cities in the Western hemisphere.
Cortés used local alliances to gain the upper hand in the region and slaughter hundreds of Aztec nobles. This included the death of Tenochtitlán’s ruler, Moctezuma.
By 1574, Spain had enslaved most of the Aztec empire, and over 20 million more people would die from Old World diseases the Spanish brought to the New World.
Spanish rule over New Spain, the land that would become known as Mexico, removed power from local peoples. Spain took full economic control, from creating the currency to profiting from all natural resources. The Roman Catholic Church also took a firm hold in the region.
Nearly 300 years after Cortés’ conquest, Father Hidalgo had become one of Mexico’s leaders fighting for independence from colonial rule. It’s believed he made the cry for independence (known as el Grito de la Independencia, or el Grito de Dolores) in the town of Dolores, in the present-day state of Hidalgo.
The word “dolores” in Spanish means “sorrows,” so “the cry of dolores” can also be read as an expression of the deep pain of the Mexican people at the hands of Spain.
This call to action by Father Hidalgo and his fellow revolutionaries helped to mobilize the people of Mexico to rise up against the Spanish crown.
Hidalgo himself was executed just eleven days after launching the struggle, but his followers would persist. Juan Aldama, José María Morelos, and Ignacio Allende were among the revolutionaries who led the cause.
A decade later, in 1821, Mexico won its independence.
How do people celebrate Mexican Independence Day?
Many families and friends gather starting on the evening of September 15th to ring in the holiday that will start at midnight. The colors of the Mexican flag—green, white, and red—are all around at Mexican Independence Day celebrations.
As with any other important holiday, friends and family enjoy delicious traditional foods and drinks. You can also hear celebratory cries of “Viva México” or “Viva la independencia.”
These gatherings focus on celebrating all aspects of Mexican culture passed down through the centuries. Celebrants prepare and serve a variety of foods, including pozole, pancita, and enchiladas.
Mexican alcoholic beverages are also popular. Surveys showed that tequila is the drink of choice by 72% of Mexico Independence Day celebrations. As you may not be aware, Mexico has a long-established history of winemaking, and those wines are a popular choice for Mexican Independence Day celebrations as well.
Mexican flags hang throughout public and private spaces, and many people may choose to dress in traditional clothing. Men wear serapes, sombreros, and light, boxy shirts known as guayaberos. Women often wear huipil, quechquémitl, and a variety of traditional skirts.
Musicians often play traditional music referencing and inspired by the Grito de Dolores.
On the evening of every September 15, Mexico City holds a large Independence Day celebration on the zócalo, its central plaza. Fireworks and musical performances last late into the night.
Around 11:00 p.m., the President of Mexico and their family go out onto the presidential balcony to recite an updated version of the Grito. The family recreates the original cry of Hidalgo for the assembled crowd.
Next, the expanded version of the “grito” encompasses more recent Mexican history, honoring illustrious citizens of post-independence Mexico who have made significant contributions to the country. The presidential family ends the Grito with the traditional shouts of “Viva México!” or “Long live Mexico!”
September 16th Celebrations in the United States
With over 37 million residents of Mexican origin, the U.S. is the largest country outside of Mexico to celebrate Mexican Independence Day.
You can find large celebrations throughout the country in major urban areas like Seattle, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and more. They often include parades, musical performances, and a version of Mexico’s Grito de Dolores recited by an important local community member.
Of course, no Fiestas Patrias celebration is complete without traditional food and drink, no matter where it’s held.
How is Cinco de Mayo different from Mexican Independence Day?
Contrary to popular belief in the United States, May 5 (also known as Cinco de Mayo) is not Mexican Independence Day. Cinco de Mayo might be a fun day to celebrate Mexican culture, but it marks a different historical event.
May 5th celebrates Mexico’s victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War. This happened in 1862, well after Mexico’s independence from Spain.
Celebrate Mexican Independence Day wherever you are
September 16 holds deep historical and cultural meaning for the Mexican people. We hope you get a chance to celebrate this day wherever you are in the world. It’s a chance to enjoy parades, music, tasty treats, and honor Mexican history with joy and reverence.
September 16th is also an important day for Mexican immigrants to stay connected to their families and culture, regardless of where they live.
In recognition of Mexico’s Independence Day, send a gift to your loved ones in Mexico with Remitly. From villages to major cities, gas stations to banks, you can send cash or bank deposits to thousands of locations across the country.
Download the app, and we’ll show you how to get started today.