Mexico is a country with abundant history. Their history includes the ancient civilizations of the Aztecs and Mayans. It also includes a bit of history influenced by the European world, a factor brought about by the arrival of the Spaniards.
The mixture of all these cultures resulted in one full of art, folklore, religion, and symbols. Here we will look at the most important ancient Mexican cultural symbols and what they represent.
1. The Mexican Flag
The Mexican flag is considered the most important cultural symbol among the Mexican people. It has a long history that goes way back to the Aztec culture. There was a time when the flag did not bear the Mexican coat of arms and looked like the Italian flag. The flag has undergone some changes to represent the culture of the Mexican people.
The Mexican flag consists of three vertical stripes with the Mexican coat of arms in the middle. The three vertical stripes are green, white, and red.
They initially represented Mexican independence, religion, and union, respectively. However, in recent times, the colors have been used to symbolize hope, unity, and the blood of Mexican heroes.
The three colors are also the adopted Mexican colors. They were acquired after Mexico achieved independence from Spain. The design of the Mexican flag came into being on Mexican Independence Day.
The green, white, and red colors on the Mexican flag also represented Mexico as an independent country; white symbolized the purity of Roman Catholicism, and red represented the union between Mexican natives and European elites.
2. Conventional Mexican Cuisine
Another symbol of Mexican culture is traditional Mexican cuisine. Mexican delicacies have changed and improved over the years.
Traditionally, they utilized corn husks and served mole on particular occasions. Mexican cuisines were used for occasions such as birthday parties, weddings, quinceaneras, weddings, and backyard barbecues. Mexican cuisine has specific elements that include lemon juice, corn, and chili peppers.
Popular dishes among Mexicans include tortas, tacos al pastor, and soups. Other delicacies include burritos, tacos, and Chile Relleno. Mexicans also love to drink, so the cuisine must have drinks such as mezcal, tequila, and margaritas. Traditional Mexican cuisine is a symbol of togetherness or unity.
3. The Mexican Coat of Arms
It has a design that was motivated by the traditional capital, Tenochtitlan. As per Aztec folklore, the itinerant tribe was roaming all over the land seeking divine intervention to decide where to construct their capital.
It is said that the picture of an eagle (referred to as the royal eagle) eating a snake displayed on the Mexican coat of arms refers to the divine intervention that enabled the Aztecs to construct Tenochtitlan, where it is currently located.
The pre-Colombian inhabitants saw the eagle as Huitzilopochtli, the sun god, whereas the Spanish saw it as a symbol of good conquering evil.
The Mexican coat of arms is located on the white stripe of the flag. It also features a laurel branch that symbolizes honor and victory.
The eagle itself is a symbol of strength and power in Aztec culture. It was the symbol of the 15th day of the Aztec calendar. It is generally believed in Mexican culture that those born on the 15th day of the Aztec calendar have the qualities of a warrior.
4. The Sugar Skull
They are usually associated with the Day of the Dead. The skulls are made using sugar, chocolate, and clay. They are used to decorate the altar in honor of departed family members during Dia de Muertos.
The Day of the Dead is considered a national holiday in Mexico. The Catholic calendar refers to this day as All Saints Day or All Souls Day. Women color themselves to look like La Catrina on Dia de los Muertos.
A Mexican illustrator named Jose Guadalupe Posada had very popular Calaveras. His technique for depicting social and political unrest was through the use of skeletal figures. This method made him famous before the 1910 revolution.
5. Cempasuchil Flowers
The importance of Cempasuchil flowers can be traced back to a romantic Aztec myth. The flowers are also known as Mexican marigolds. The legend is about Xochitl and Haitzilin, two lovers who routinely hiked to the top of a mountain to leave flower offerings to the sun god and demonstrate their love for each other.
Haitzilin died in the battle, which led Xochitl to pray to the sun god to enable them to reunite on earth. The sun god was touched by her prayers and offerings and transformed her into a golden flower, while her lover was reincarnated as a hummingbird.
The myth led to the origin of the belief that the Mexican Marigold can guide spirits home. It is also why cempasuchil flowers are considered offerings on the Day of the Dead.
6. Perforated Paper
Perforated paper has a major role to play in Mexican culture. They are also referred to as papel picado. They are used as decorations at secular and religious events.
Their colors are typically designed to depict specific images based on the event. For example, during Christmas, the paper is cut to illustrate the Nativity Scene and may include doves and angels. On the other hand, the tissue is cut in the shape of a sugar skull during the Day of the Dead celebration.
Their colors also have particular meanings, such as black paper representing the underworld, white for children, purple representing the Catholic religion, orange symbolizing mourning, red representing women who passed away during childbirth or warriors, green symbolizing the young, and finally yellow, a symbol for the elderly.
7. The Cross of Jesus
The cross is an important symbol in Mexican society and fuses Spanish and Mexican cultures. It is associated with the death of Jesus Christ among Roman Catholics. The Spaniards were very religious in their faith.
In addition, Spain is considered one of the most Catholic countries in all of Europe, especially because they were trying to do away with Muslims and Jews.
However, the four points of the cross are associated with wind direction in Mayan culture. The Mexicans, and thus the Mayan society, take religion and respect for religious institutions very seriously.
The Mayan people strongly announce their belief in God and the importance of religion in their lives. A large number of Mayans or Mexicans attend religious services often.
Note: See our detailed post of the different types of Christian Crosses around the world.
In many cultures, butterflies are viewed as important symbols. The annual migration of monarch butterflies has made them quite revered in Mexico.
Mexican folklore believes that Monarch butterflies are the souls of the dead. Therefore, the Monarch butterfly is commonly used as decoration when celebrating the Day of the Dead.
Before colonization, the Mexican cultures assigned meaning to the different butterfly variants. White butterflies meant good news; black butterflies represented bad luck, while green butterflies symbolized hope. Butterfly motifs are commonly used in pottery and textiles in Mexican art.
Jaguars are respected animals in Mesoamerican tradition. To the Mayans, the jaguar symbolizes many things. The jaguar is a dominant predator associated with power, ferocity, and strength. Therefore, this animal was used to adorn Mayan warriors’ shields.
Jaguars are nocturnal animals, so their ability to see in the dark has earned them respect. For this reason, they are associated with deep awareness and foresight.
Tezcatlipoca, the Aztec god of sorcery and night, considered the jaguar a spirit animal. The Aztec god’s stone is obsidian. It was a reflective stone used as a mirror to beseech the visionary powers possessed by the jaguar.
10. Catedral Metropolitana
Also known as the Metropolitan Cathedral, Catedral Metropolitana is a national cathedral in Mexico City. It is a symbol of the Tenochtitlan conquest by Spanish conquerors. It is also a symbol of the Catholic faith. It is a striking building located in the square.
Any person who visits Mexico City will be impressed by the cathedral. Its full name is “Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven.”
It is ranked among Mexico’s most treasured architectural designs. It comprises high ceilings and walls that are completely covered in murals. It also has 16 distinctive chapels. There is also a high altar that is hard to miss.
Nowadays, foreign-owned companies are coming up in Mexico. All this is due to the success of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The financial ties between Mexico and the neighboring United States have also improved. Mexico’s economy is still not strong enough, but it plays a huge role in Latin America.
The vibrant Mexican culture is interesting to learn. The divergent cultures in Mexico’s history are still being followed today despite the influence brought about by Mexico’s relationship with the outside world.