The weekend is coming to a close and Mexico has navigated a careful balance of mass celebration, quality family time, and rest. Friday, September 15th, marked the anniversary of El Grito de Dolores (The Cry of Dolores). This important day is considered the eve of Independence and celebrates the call to battle given on the same day in 1810 by Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla. Hidalgo’s declaration triggered the Mexican War of Independence, which lasted more than a decade, and eventually resulted in Mexico’s liberation from Spain. Each year, the president re-enacts the Grito from the National Palace in Mexico City, bringing hundreds of thousands of people to the city’s center for celebration.
Independence Day is one of Mexico’s biggest holidays, not to be confused with Cinco de Mayo. In contrast, Cinco de Mayo occurred decades after Mexico gained its independence. It is celebrated on a much smaller scale, primarily in the city of Puebla, where the Mexican army remarkably defeated a much stronger French army during the invasion of Napoleon III. This holiday has indisputably transformed into a highly celebrated event in the US, emphasizing the celebration of Mexican-Americanism.
The eve of Independence, September 15th, is celebrated in big festival style. For many weeks, the streets have been lined with vendors selling all things red, white, and green in anticipation of the holiday. Throughout the weekend, adults and children alike dressed up in varied dress, ranging from traditional Mexican clothing to modern party-style wigs and light up glasses. Even the city’s dogs participated!
Look at this stunner ready to party in his mariachi suit.
Starting in the afternoon, people begin gathering in the Zocalo, or city’s central square. Live music, food, and regalia are central to the celebration leading up to the president’s annual grito around 11pm. Following the president’s remarks, Hidalgo’s bell is rung, and a mass singing of the national anthem ensues. The festival concludes with an incredible showcase of fireworks over the zocalo. Since I was teaching earlier in the evening, we arrived to the city center shortly before the president’s speech and didn’t make it all the way to the zocalo. By that time, an exhaustive crowd had arrived, the zocalo was full, and riot police escorted us to the street Calle 20 de Noviembre to watch the fireworks behind the barricades. It was still a great sight to see and we enjoyed the spectacle alongside a manageable crowd. TIP: Get to the Zocalo early, early, early for public festivals and events. That includes this week’s free Ricky Martin concert.
Post-fireworks, many families choose to go home. Still, a great number of children are seen playing in the streets throughout the night, setting fire to real-deal firecrackers and chasing each other in endless wars of silly string. Others played soccer in the alleys and enjoyed home-cooked late night eats in the street.
Walking around the centro and partaking in the late night festivities was an intimate experience that reminds me of the love and passion that I feel in this place. Later, we finished the evening off with a cigar, beer, pozole (a traditional hominy stew), and some more local firecrackers at one of our favorite bars Hosteria La Bota before heading back home for some much-needed sleep.
Special thanks to the city’s cleanup crew, who worked in full force late throughout the evening to ensure the city was back in shape for the following day.
The actual day of Independence, September 16th, was a much quieter day. Most business throughout the city were closed as families spent quality time together. The city seemed mostly abandoned and offered one of the rare opportunities to experience its beauty in relative quiet. This was similar to the very first day we arrived in CDMX, which was Mexico’s Labor Day, when we found ourselves quite puzzled by the empty city. On that occasion, we were so hungry from our day of travel and desperate to find an open restaurant. Eventually we scored some mediocre falafel to get us through the night.
Fortunately, on this holiday, we were well prepared with a meal plan. One of our favorite bar-cafes Cicatriz Cafe had been posting for a few days about their plan to be open on Independence Day with a special offering of Chiles en Nogada. We have attended other special meals at Cicatriz and knew this would be a perfect place to spend the day. Plus, I was desperate to try my first Chile en Nogada, a seasonal dish comprised of poblano pepper stuffed with sausage, fruit, and nuts then covered with a special walnut sauce and pomegranate seeds. I have been seeing this dish all over town for weeks now and was excited for Cicatriz to share their rendition as they consistently prepare quality, lovely eats. It did not disappoint with a combination of smoky, spicy, and sweet flavors. This chile was stuffed with ground pork, raisins, peaches, apples, and nuts. The walnut sauce was perfectly warm, nutty, and creamy and made from scratch after days of cracking fresh walnuts. Now I am left wanting to eat as many of these around the city as I can before the season runs out.
After leaving Cicatriz, we were tired out. Like many others, our weekend ended with a day and a half of rest. I am thankful, because tomorrow the city will be back to its ways of impressive noise and organized chaos in full effect. And with a promise to keep loving this city and country, I’ll end with VIVA MEXICO!