The 16th of September marks the anniversary of Mexico’s 1810 declaration of independence from Spain after 300 years of colonial rule. The celebratory day, known as “El Grito de Dolores,” is named for the battle cry uttered in Dolores, Mexico that began the revolution. “El Grito” was first proclaimed by a charismatic and irreverent Catholic priest named Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla. A rejector of clerical celibacy, questioner of the existence of hell, and lover of gambling, he also vehemently opposed the colonial government. After Hidalgo’s secret coup d’etat was squashed by a disloyal church member, he rang the church bells of his small Dolores parish and delivered a speech that–although never actually written down and the details debated for 200 years –called upon his parishioners to declare war against Spain.
“My children,” he is said to have claimed, “a new dispensation comes to us today. Will you receive it? Will you free yourselves? We must act at once… Will you defend your religion and your rights as true patriots? Long live our Lady of Guadalupe! Death to bad government!” Hidalgo rallied very early on for the redistribution of land and racial equality in Mexico while never condemning either the embrace of monarchy or loyalty to the Catholic church. In 1810, with a mounting and racially mixed militia, Hidalgo led a trail of bloodshed all the way to Mexico City, where he was ultimately defeated and executed in 1811.
Although the War carried on for another decade and independence wouldn’t actually be achieved until the 1821 Treaty of Córdoba – wherein Mexico was named an independent constitutional monarchy–it is Hidalgo’s call to arms that remains proudly in the memories of Mexican citizens as the moment of independence. Now of almost mythic proportions, the “grito” has come to be synonymous with the very notion of Mexican independence. In modern Mexico, it is a holiday whose celebration begins the evening before, on the 15th of September at exactly 11 pm, with political leaders all over the country reenacting Hidalgo’s historic speech in public squares. The President of Mexico rings the bell in the National Palace, acknowledges the famous heroes of the Revolution, and leads the country in a patriotic cry of “¡Viva México!” (said three times.) The largest of these takes place in El Zócalo, the central square in Mexico City, where over 150,000 people gather to join in the celebration.
The 16th of September, which is a fiesta patria or national holiday, is dedicated to family, food, parades, bullfights, rodeos and dancing. Although quite a distance from Mexico City, here at Hacienda Petac we are already planning the celebration with our favorite foods and cocktails. Nearby, Mérida will be awash in green, red and white as the holiday is celebrated in typical Yucatan fashion – a blend of Mexican and Mayan traditions – with the city gathering downtown to shout the “grito” in Spanish while dressed in Mayan outfits. A spectacle indeed, don’t worry if you can’t make the celebration itself; all of September is, in fact, El Mes de la Patria– Patriot Month–and is a wonderful time to visit in its entirety.