Day of the dead celebrates the spirits of the deceased.
While Cinco de Mayo may be the most known Mexican celebration in the United States, major festivals with political and religious significance in Mexico are far more important. Festivals combine early American Indian culture, Spanish influences and Mexican sensibilities of the country's citizens.
Cinco de Mayo
Cinco de Mayo, celebrated more in the United States than Mexico, honors the date in 1862 when Mexican soldiers defeated the French army in Puebla, preserving the country's nascent democracy. Emperor Napoleon III's intent in sending the army was to replace Mexico's government with a monarchy that supported France. Celebrations in Puebla include lectures, concerts and cultural programs in the days before May 5. On the 5th, the Mexican army, joined by costumed residents, leads a parade. One Mexico City neighborhood settled by descendents of the original soldiers holds a daylong celebration with a street party and parade.
Las Dias de los Muertos
Observed on November 1 and 2, Las Dias de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrates the spirits of deceased relatives with music and feasts. Originally observed for the entire month of August, the dates changed when Spaniards attempted to Christianize the celebration. Children are remembered on November 1 and adults on the next day. Participants decorate altars where offerings of food are placed. Fresh flowers adorn cemeteries, and family members gather for a festive reunion. In rural Mexico, family members leave gifts for the dead at the cemetery and prepare a feast of the deceased's favorite foods.
Las Posadas re-creates Mary and Joseph's search for a room at an inn. The festival begins on December 16, when a man and a woman portraying Joseph and Mary lead a procession of the Magi, shepherds and children dressed as angels. The group goes from house to house searching for a room but are turned away until they reach a designated home where they are welcomed. People gather for a party, and a doll is left at the home to be picked up by the next night's participants. The festival goes on each night until Christmas Eve, when it is followed by midnight Mass.
El Grito de Independencia
Mexicans celebrate El Grito de Independencia, or Independence Day, on September 16. The date marks the 1810 start of the 10-year war for independence with Spain. Re-enactments take place in village and city plazas, and homes and business are decorated with the national colors: green, white and red. Vendors sell souvenirs, and food stands offer Mexican food and drink. People gather in the plaza the night before the celebration, wearing indigenous dress, and bands perform traditional Mexican music. The party continues until 11:00 p.m., when an individual, typically a local government official, arrives to declare independence. Fireworks displays mark the beginning of El Grito de Independencia.
*culled from traveltips.usatoday.com.