As we pack up our picnic baskets and red, white and blue outfits from July 4th, I’ve been thinking about what holidays in the Next America will look like. Well-traveled Americans know what a blast holiday traditions can be in other countries, from Carnival in Brazil and Italy to the Day of the Cross in Spain to Holi in India. When I lived in The Netherlands, Queen’s Day—which wasn’t even the current queen’s birthday—was the day to look forward to throughout the year. We took to the streets and partied hard, way too hard, tripping around people selling their stuff tax-free in honor of the biggest cheese in the land.
In our great American melting pot, we’re able to take part in lots of celebrations that originate in other countries. But now that 52 million Americans call themselves Hispanic (about 17 percent of the U.S. population), that community’s influence on American culture is multiplying fast.
From my home in Tucson, Ariz., I’m getting a front-row seat for Hispanic and Latino celebrations, and I have to admit the Day of the Dead is the holiday I find most intriguing—like Halloween meets an awesome tailgate.
Arizona and the three other states bordering Mexico (California, New Mexico and Texas) are a microcosm of the U.S. Hispanic community. New York City and Los Angeles, where the sphere of influence in this country has always been, still matter, but the U.S.–Mexico border is like a port, where change happens fast. Those are just two of the reasons why the public relations agency where I serve as CEO, Havas PR North America, fielded an online study of 800 Hispanic and non-Hispanic people ages 18 to 24 in the border states to get their opinions on key areas such as family, food, work, media and more.
I talked about some other findings in a previous post. Here is a bit about what we discovered related to holidays:
Hispanic holidays and traditions are being reinvigorated, restored and recast as New Americana, and smart brands need to be paying attention. As just one example, there’s a different day to celebrate Mother’s Day in the Hispanic community—meaning a second opportunity to honor American mamás.
The most well-known is probably Cinco de Mayo (May 5), which has become a popular celebration across the U.S. It started as commemoration of the 1862 Battle of Puebla, when a Mexican force defeated a 50-percent-bigger French force. Here, it has morphed into a colorful, high-spirits, out-on-the-streets celebration of all things Mexican with traditional costumes, music, dance, food and drink. Think St. Patrick’s Day (the only other “immigrant” festival that Americans have widely celebrated no matter their ethnic background), but with zingier food and a whole lot of other colors besides green.
There’s also El Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), Latin America’s truly ghoulish take on Halloween. The United States developed a safe version of the event, obsessed with pumpkins and cartoonish horror figures. That contrasts with the Hispanic-American celebrations, which are full of skulls and skeletons and keep death as a central theme. They know that it’s the real prospect of death that gives life its spice.
Less well known outside the border states is Las Posadas, a nine-day festival running until Christmas Eve. Children dress as shepherds and angels and follow a couple who play the parts of Mary and Joseph looking for a place to stay (an inn; posada). The festival involves a lot of piñatas—another great Hispanic tradition that we see everywhere in the U.S. Originally clay pots, they’ve evolved into decorated containers of varying shapes made of papier-mâché, pottery, or cloth that get filled with exciting stuff like candies and small gifts.
Anyone familiar with life in the border states knows that Hispanic holidays and traditions are spreading quickly through mainstream American culture. My bet is that holidays in the Next America, throughout the entire country, will have much more of a Hispanic flavor. Extra chiles, please.