Traditions of Lent in Mexico

Decorations for Palm Sunday in San Miguel de Allende

Getty Images | Religious Images/UIG

After the revelry of Carnival celebrations, comes the more somber and sober time of Lent. This is the time period in the Catholic church calendar that falls between Ash Wednesday and Easter. The word for Lent in Spanish is Cuaresma, which comes from the word cuarenta, meaning forty, because Lent lasts for forty days (plus six Sundays which are not counted). For Christians, this is traditionally a time of sobriety and abstinence meant to correspond to the time Jesus spent in the wilderness. Many people decide to give up something that they enjoy for Lent such as sweets or alcohol. In Mexico, it is customary to abstain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent.

Mexican Food for Lent

Some foods are traditionally associated with the Lenten season in Mexico. It is very common to eat seafood on Fridays during Lent; fish and shrimp are both very popular. Another food commonly eaten at this time of year is empanadas de vigilia. These empanadas are made with a flour pastry shell and stuffed with vegetables or seafood. A dessert that is often served during this time of year is capirotada, which is a kind of Mexican bread pudding with raisins and cheese. The ingredients in capirotada are believed to represent the suffering of Christ on the cross (the bread symbolizes his body, the syrup is his blood, the cloves are the nails on the cross, and the melted cheese represents the shroud.) 

Read more about Mexican Food for Lent from the blog Mexico Cooks!

Dates of Lent

The dates of Lent vary from year to year as do the dates of Carnival and Easter. In the Western church (as opposed to the Eastern Orthodox church which celebrates on a different date) Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox. The dates of Lent for the coming years are:

  • 2021 - February 17 to April 2
  • 2022 - March 2 to April 16
  • 2023 - February 23 to April 8

Ash Wednesday

The first day of Lent is Ash Wednesday. On this day, the faithful go to church for mass and at the end of the service, people line up to have the priest draw the sign of the cross in ashes on their forehead. This is a sign of repentance and is meant to remind people of their mortality. The ashes symbolize penance, mourning and mortality. In Mexico, many Catholics leave the ashes on their foreheads all day long as a sign of humility.

The Six Fridays of Lent

In some regions of Mexico, there are special celebrations that take place each Friday during Lent. For example, in Oaxaca, the fourth Friday of Lent is the Día de la Samaritana, the fifth Friday of Lent is celebrated in nearby Etla at the Señor de las Peñas Church. The custom is similar in Taxco, where there is a celebration on each of the Fridays during Lent in a different nearby village.

The sixth and final Friday of Lent, the Friday before Palm Sunday, is known as Viernes de Dolores, "Friday of Sorrows." This is a day of devotion to the manifestation of the Virgin Mary at the foot of the cross, known as Our Lady of Sorrows. Altars are set up in churches, businesses and private homes in honor of the Virgin of Sorrows, with particular attention to her pain and suffering at the loss of her son. These altars will contain certain specific elements such as glasses of water that represent the tears of the Virgin, citrus fruit to represent the bitterness of her pain, and ceramic animals covered in chia sprouts ("chia pets") because the sprouts represent new life and resurrection. 

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday, known in Mexico as Domingo de Ramos is one week before Easter and is the official start of Holy Week. On this day, Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem, when he was given a hero's welcome, and people spread palms before him, is commemorated. Artisans set up stalls outside of churches to sell intricately woven palms in the shape of crosses and other designs. In some places, there are processions recreating Jesus' arrival in Jerusalem.

Read about the traditions surrounding Holy Week and Easter in Mexico.

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