Tlaxcala: Central Mexico Is Central To Festivals

by Rachel Braley

Festivities will be a major part of any study abroad program in Mexico; some will be small while others are world famous. The Running of the Bulls is one known worldwide yet one many associate only with Spain. The overall theme of this festivity - angry bulls let loose into a maze of streets filled with people who literally run for their lives. It has been featured in countless books, movies, and television shows.

Feathered Headdress at Carnaval Tlaxcala
Feathered Headdress at Carnaval Tlaxcala. Photo Courtesy of FernandoTLx on Wikimedia

Pamplona, Spain is one of the most famous locations for this adrenaline-filled event. However, this tradition is also found 3,000 miles south, in the small less known Mexican state called Tlaxcala. Pronounced “tahlacscala,” it is the smallest state in Mexico and located just southeast of Mexico City. Centrally located, it’s filled to the brim with culture, tradition, and many more celebrations making it a great addition to your travels in Mexico.

Mexican Festivals: More Than Bulls

Tlaxcala’s Running of the Bulls, known locally as La Huamantlada, is an annual event that takes place in mid August. At noon each year, 12 furious bulls are let loose to run through the streets, as hundreds of participants attempt to stay ahead of the furious herd. This event may sound too intense for some, but another festival takes place the night before in honor of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, which is equally as festive but far less dangerous.

During La Noche que Nadie Duerme (meaning “the night no one sleeps”), flocks of people feast together and admire exquisitely-created rugs, that run nearly five miles to the entrance of a beautiful church. Each rug is made out of fresh flowers and colored sawdust, creating ornate patterns and holy biblical illustrations. The rugs set the Running of the Bulls celebration in Tlaxcala apart from other places.

Celebrate With the Locals

The people of Tlaxcala don’t only celebrate in the summer months, another enormous carnival is held each spring during the three days leading up to Ash Wednesday. Known simply as “Carnival,” this renowned event features elaborate dances performed by groups representing over 50 different Mexican towns!

In order to prepare for this grandiose event, voluntary labor is critical. Men and women of all ages open up their homes to out of town visitors; together they create beautiful costumes, carry out lengthy rehearsals, bake the mole (or sauce) and tamales for the dancers and public, raise money to pay for musicians, and decide who will be in charge of overseeing the event each year.

Preparing emotionally is important as well, so on the Friday before Carnival a ceremony known as Burn the Bad Mood is held. Individuals release negative feelings that have built up by burning a paper figure in a coffin that is said to represent sadness, guilt, and anger. This ceremony is thought to make room for the joy and fun that comes with the celebration of Carnival and Ash Wednesday.

Noche que nadie duerme

Noche que nadie duerme. Photo by David S. Aguirre Palestina

Carnival Stars and Stories

The stars of Carnival are the dancers, or huehues, who form groups of 20 to 40 people. Each group is named according to the region where they are from, the costumes they wear, and particular dances they perform. Each dance tells a traditional story, and decorative masks are worn by the huehues to represent various characters and scenes.

Legend of the Snake

Legend has it that there was a gorgeous woman chased by all of the men in her town. However, she was shallow and rude and the townspeople prayed that the gods would free their men from her mesmerizing love spell. It is believed that the gods heard the people’s cry for help and a cloud of thunder and dust fell over the woman. When the smoke cleared, there was a disgusting snake in the woman’s place; the snake continually agonized the townspeople. The only way to escape the torments of the snake was to perform a dance with long whips, which would imitate the movements of the snake. The story of the snake dance represents this story. Many other similar dances based on legendary stories can be seen in towns all over Tlaxcala throughout the three days of Carnival. The festival itself represents a tradition of dancing that dates all the way back to the arrival of the Spaniards in Mexico.

Get Involved

These celebrations are just a few of the many traditional festivals held throughout the year in Tlaxcala. Students studying abroad in Tlaxcala or in central Mexico can’t help but watch the cultural traditions unfold, but they can also become actively involved in the fiesta through volunteering. If you’re interested in witnessing some of the world’s most incredible traditions and festivals, then look into study programs in central Mexico.