Holidays of the Spanish-Speaking World

Holy Days of Christianity Among Those Widely Observed

Christmas lights in Oveido, Spain.
Christmas lights in Oveido, Asturias, Spain. Gonmi/Creative Commons license.

If you're traveling to a Spanish-speaking area, one thing to consider is the country's fiestas, holidays and other celebrations. On the positive side, you may get an opportunity for an upclose look at the country's culture and a chance to participate in activities you'll see nowhere else; on the other hand, with some of the more important holidays, businesses may be closed, public transportation may crowded and hotel rooms may be difficult to reserve.

Because of the Roman Catholic heritage, in nearly all the Spanish-speaking world la Semana Santa, or Holy Week, the week before Easter, is among the most widely celebrated of holidays. Specific days observed include el Domingo de Ramos, or Palm Sunday, a celebration of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem before his death; el Jueves Santo, which commemorates la Última Cena de Jesús (the Last Supper); el Viernes Santo, or Good Friday, marking the day of Jesus' death; and the week's climax, el Domingo de Pascua or la Pascua de Resurrección, or Easter, a celebration of Jesus' Resurrection. The dates of la Semana Santa vary from year to year.

La Navidad, or Christmas, is also universally celebrated on Dec. 25. Related days include la Nochebuena (Christmas Eve, Dec. 24), el día de san Esteban (St. Stephen's Day, honoring the man traditionally believed to be the first Christian martyr, on Dec. 26), el día de san Juan Evangelista (St. John's Day, on Dec. 27), el día de los Santos Inocentes (Day of the Innocents, honoring the babies who, according to the Bible, were ordered slaughtered by King Herod, Dec. 28) and el día de la Sagrada Familia (the Day of the Holy Family, observed the Sunday after Christmas), culminating in la Epifanía (Jan. 6, Epiphany, the 12th day of Christmas, marking the day los magos or Wise Men arrived to see the infant Jesus).

In the middle of all this is el Año Nuevo, or New Year's, which typically is celebrated beginning on el Nocheviejo, or New Year's Eve.

Most Latin American countries also celebrate an Independence Day to mark the day of separation from Spain or, in a few cases, some other country. Among the días de la independencia are Feb. 12 (Chile), Feb. 27 (Dominican Republic), May 24 (Ecuador), July 5 (Venezuela), July 9 (Argentina), July 20 (Colombia), July 28 (Peru), Aug. 6 (Bolivia), Aug. 10 (Ecuador), Aug. 25 (Uruguay), Sept. 15 (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua), Sept. 16 (Mexico) and Nov. 28 (Panama). Spain, meanwhile, celebrates its Día de la Constitución (Constitution Day) on Dec. 6.

Other days of celebration observed include the following:

  • Día del Trabajo or Día del Trabajador — May Day or Labor Day is widely observed on May 1.
  • Fiesta Nacional de España — This day, observed on Oct. 12, marks the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas. It also goes by other names, including la Fiesta de la Hispanidad. In Latin America, it is often known as el Día de la Raza.
  • Cinco de Mayo — This Mexican celebration marking a victory in the Battle of Puebla has been exported to the United States, where it is more widely observed than in Mexico.
  • Día de la Asunción — A day commemorating the Assumption of Mary is observed in some countries on Aug. 15.
  • Día de la Revolución — Mexico celebrates the start of the Mexican Revolution on the third Monday of November.
  • Día de Todos Santos — All Saints' Day is widely observed on Nov. 1.