Masks in the Mexican Culture

Mexican people enjoy putting on theatrical productions and celebrating feast days. In doing so, they honor the festival’s occasion by wearing themed masks. Designed to transform the person wearing the mask into another being, animal or object, these masks have a long history with Mexico’s indigenous people which has survived and is embraced by modern-day Mexicans.

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Performed the same way for many generations, masked villagers tell folk takes, act out plays and perform dances to celebrate religious and cultural events. If visiting Mexico during Easter or during the time around December 12th (celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico’s Patron Saint), you may see many masked villagers in rural town squares. While not pagan acts, the stories, dances and plays are meant to remind Mexicans of important values like faith, honor, sacrifice, determination, persistence and unity.  

Mexican masks are made from hand-carved woods and are unique to each festival. Mask making is considered a vital occupation just as jewelry makers, clothing constructors and iron makers are seen as important professions. When not making masks for festivals, replica masks created for the tourist trade are available in various sizes and are sold at different price points. Tourist masks can be worn but the ones sold are more for decorative purposes rather than ceremonial ones. Look for masks resembling animals’ faces, elaborate suns and those bearing signs of everyday Mexican life.

Since the Oaxaca region specializes in this art form, the further from the area you venture, the more expensive the masks become. If looking to purchase an authentic mask or watch one being constructed, visit the town of Santa Maria Huazolotitlan. One word of caution though: never pay an exorbitant price for an “authentic, old mask” unless you are one-hundred percent positive the mask is old and not an imitation piece that was artificially aged.  For this purpose, you may wish to consult a historian first who specializes in Mexican anthropology.

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