In Search of the Real “Cinco de Mayo?” Visit Puebla Province.


Celebrated locally in Mexico as The Day of the Battle of Puebla, Cinco de Mayo commemorates May 5, 1862 when an underdog Mexican army defeated the behemoth French military in a small town just outside of Mexico City. It was the middle of the 19th century and France had occupied a near bankrupt Mexico since the end of the Mexican-American War. President Benito Juárez had just declared a suspension of foreign debt payments, and the European powers were angry. While the American Civil War raged in the North, Britain, Spain and France sent their navies to Mexico to threaten Juárez and collect on their loans.


Napoleon III of France considered the debt a window of opportunity for establishing a French stronghold in Latin America. Although the French army outnumbered the Mexican army two to one and was significantly better trained, Mexico emerged victorious. This defeat of the proverbial Goliath lent a sense of patriotism to the suffering country.


Today, where the battle occurred in the State of Puebla, schools and businesses close for the holiday, and the sense of national pride is strong. Cinco de Mayo, which many wrongly think of as Mexico’s Independence Day, has become more widely celebrated in the United States than in Mexico proper. In the U.S. Cinco de Mayo has transcended its own history, with little or no relation to the original event…becoming a colorful and somewhat raucous annual party centered around Mexican food and drink.

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Spring Equinox at Chichen Itza


The vernal equinox, the day each spring when the Earth’s axis is tilted neither toward nor away from the sun and so night and day are of roughly equal length, falls on March 20th.


Lucky for us, there are two extraordinary locations near Hacienda Petac to view the event. Chichén Itzà and Dzibilchaltún, both just outside of Mérida, are considered to be the most impressive places in the Yucatan to witness the fusion of Mayan astronomy and architecture.


The Maya, known for an almost preternatural understanding of astronomy, built the pyramid at Chichén Itzà in honor of their serpent god Kukulkan. The angle of the sun was accounted for in such a way that during the equinox, the cast of the sun forms seven isosceles triangles that resemble a feathered serpent slithering toward its stone head at the base of the pyramid (see video above).


As Chichén Itzà’s serpent is meant to show the might of the gods, Dzibilchaltún’s Temple of the Seven Dolls, which was originally built in 700 AD, demonstrates Mayan architectural precision. At sunrise during the spring equinox, the sun shines directly between the doorposts into one window of the temple and out the other. With the “arrival of the sun” a beam of light shines over the thousands of worshipers and tourists that come for the event each year.


The Maya measured their lives by the sun, and as such, the equinoxes had practical importance for them as well. The spring equinox marked the time to begin planting the corn crop and the autumnal equinox signaled the time to begin the harvest. For us at Petac, the event summons a bit of nostalgia and appreciation for our culture’s history but also reminds us that the warmth of spring will soon be here.






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Carnaval in Merida— Celebrations in the Yucatan


Carnaval in Mérida, a week of wanton revelry leading up to the restrain-filled observance of Lent, is one of the biggest occasions of the year for the city and considered one of the best carnaval festivals in the world. Here at Hacienda Petac we have a somewhat calmer celebration, one filled with good food and plenty of poolside relaxation, but in nearby Mérida the festivities are some of the best in Latin America.


Although usually with a slightly different theme, Carnaval in Mérida always maintains ties to the country’s Mayan roots as the parades and events throughout the week blend fantasy and reality. Allegorical parade floats, mystical creature costumes and reenactments of Mayan folklore characterize the week of Yucatecan bacchanalia.


Carnaval celebrations began in the 16th century when the Spanish governor began hosting balls, feasts and costume parties for Mérida’s wealthier citizens, the population known as the “Casta Divina,” or the Divine Caste. Since then Carnaval has evolved into a much more egalitarian affair and is now celebrated publicly in the city’s tree-lined central plaza. Festivities commence with the Burning of the Bad Humors (Quemando de Mal Humor) a firework filled ritual in which evil spirits are chased and burned as a means to purge the city and make way for the week’s revelry. The next day features the Parade of the Children, a procession of floats filled with enthusiastic kids in colorful costumes representing Mayan mystical spirits. The coroneted Carnaval king and queen follow behind, dressed in full traditional costume.


Each day thereafter is defined by raucous parades and performances that bleed into evening concerts and outdoor parties that last until dawn.  Coordinated by the Carnaval Committee, hundreds of artists from all over the world fly in for curated exhibitions while musicians, dancers and models offer glamour to each day of parades. The streets of Mérida are replete with partiers on bleachers, kids on parents’ shoulders, food vendors on curbs and local TV and radio personalities on stages set up to comment on it all.


By the end of the weekend, the city’s party stamina begins to wane, allowing for the Regional Parade – the most traditionally Mayan parade of the bunch and characterized by Yucatecan music and horse-drawn carriages – to be much more family-oriented. Although it is truly the best overindulgence of the year, Mérida’s Carnaval is known in particular for being a somewhat respectful celebration that centers more on family. Less emphasis is placed on pre-Lent debauchery here than it is in many other cities.


The Carnaval’s finale, one of our favorite parts of the week, is another annual tradition known as The Battle of the Flowers where, instead of throwing beads or candy, crowds throw fresh flowers at each other. Originally a mock battle with flowers for ammunition, it is now an official work holiday and the colorful final hurrah before, with the tongue-in-cheek ceremony of the Burial of Juan Carnaval, events come to a close.


It seems that the number of Carnaval attendees grows with each passing year. According to Mayor Renan Barrera, Mérida played host to over one million visitors throughout Carnaval 2013. Discussions have already begun with regards to relocating future celebrations. Officials are looking for a different part of the city until the Paseo de Montejo Avenue – the traditional parade route – can be modernized and expanded to accommodate the ever-growing numbers of celebrators.


Until then, though, Mérida returns to its normal, more elegant sensibilities. Here at Hacienda Petac, we’re waking up to calmer mornings and spending lovely evenings in the Chapel. Even we will admit, though, to our lingering curiosity over just what next year’s carnaval might bring.





Photo Credit: Metro Travel

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