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Everybody Fiesta: A Unit on Hispanic Celebrations

The day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, 

Christmas and Dia de los Tres Reyes


Celebrations for the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe begin the week before December 12. This fiesta is based on the legend of Juan Diego and the Virgin Mary. The virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego in the year of 1531 and told him to go to the Bishop and have him build a shrine to The Virgin Mary on the site where she had appeared to Juan Diego. The Bishop did not believe him so the Virgin Mary had to appear to Juan Diego again. This time she had Juan gather roses from a stony hill where only cacti grew and she wrapped them in his cloak. Juan was to take these to the Bishop who had refused his request for the shrine. When Juan opened his cloak the roses disappeared and a picture of the Virgin appeared on his cloak. The Bishop declared it a miracle and had a church built to honor the Virgin. She became the patron saint of Mexico. On the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe children visit their local church. The boys dress as Dieguitos in memory of Juan Diego, with serapes, sandals and painted mustaches. A huge fair is held during the fiesta and Conchero dancers and matachin sword dancers entertain the crowd. There are twelve dances performed some of these are "The Battle, The Cross, and El Toro" ( the bull). There are food booths and street vendor type pushcarts for refreshments at the fiesta.

The celebrations for the day of the Virgin of Guadalupe barely end before the Christmas season begins. The Christmas celebrations begin on December 16 and continue through January 6, Three Kings Day. The Nacimiento (manger scene) is the most important part of this holiday to the Catholic families. The people have Posada (inn or shelter) Processions to reenact Mary and Joseph looking for a room. These are usually done by children and they continue the procession for nine nights. The last night is on December 24 and the procession is finally admitted to someone's home.

The people have prayers around the manger and then the socializing begins. There is a piñata for the children. A piñata is made of clay or paper mache and covered in curly tissue paper, it can be any shape or size. The youngest child is allowed to try to break open the hanging piñata first and then the others are given a chance until it is broken. There are usually floats in the procession on the night of December 24 and then a large firework display. The Christmas season ends on January 6, which is the Dia de los Tres Reyes ( Day of the Three Kings). The Three kings brought rich gifts to the baby Jesus so children in Mexico believe they will bring them gifts also. They leave water and grass for the weary camels , and their shoes out for the gift. In the morning the water and grass is gone and their shoes are filled with gifts.

On January 6 many parties and celebrations have a special cake called the Three Kings' Cake. It is the shape of a crown with cherry candies for jewels. A tiny doll is placed inside the cake before it bakes. The person who finds the doll is supposed to have good luck. These three fiestas are celebrated in Latin American Countries and in the United States in areas where large Hispanic populations are.


Students will be able to see the similarities between the holiday celebrations in the United States and fiestas.

Students will be able to demonstrate an understanding of what a fiesta is.

Students will be able to identify five Latin American Countries on the map.

Students will be able to identify three symbols that are used during a holiday celebration or fiesta.

Students will be able to demonstrate an understanding of how holiday celebrations or fiestas are based on legends.

Time Required:  

3 to 4 days


celebrations, fiestas, legends,

symbols, similarities, differences,



A globe

large round balloon

newspaper strips

flour and water paste

The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie dePaola

Nine Days to Christmas a Story of Mexico by Marie Hall Ets and Aurora Labastida

  •  Have students share some of the holidays they celebrate in their homes. 
  • Ask students if there are holidays that we celebrate in the United States that other countries also celebrate . List what students say on the board.
  •  Explain to students that a fiesta is a festival or holiday. Fiestas can be held in honor of religious holidays, national events, or community leaders. Three fiestas that are celebrated in Mexico during the months of December and January are the day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Christmas, and Dia de los Tres Reyes (Day of Three Kings). 
  • Give the students an explanation of these three fiestas and how they are celebrated. Have students compare these three fiestas to holiday celebrations that are popular in the United States.
  •  Pull down the flat world map and get the globe. If possible have maps for students to use. Discuss with the students what Latin American countries are and where they are located. Point out North America, South America, Central America and the Caribbean Islands. Then discuss the countries found on those continents. Give students time to identify Latin American countries on the map with a neighbor.
  •  Read Nine Days to Christmas ask students to look for differences in how U.S. citizens celebrate Christmas and how those in Mexico celebrate Christmas. 
  • Have students write some of the similarities and difference in the way we celebrate holidays in the United States and how people in other countries celebrate the same holidays in different ways.
  • Discuss with the class the legend of Juan Diego and the Virgin of Guadalupe. Then read The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie dePaola. 
  • These are two examples of what a legend is. Discuss with students the origin of celebrations. Talk about how the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe is based on a legend.
  •  Ask students if they have special foods that they only get when they celebrate certain holidays. For example candy canes at Christmas and pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. 
  • Then divide students into groups of four or five by numbering off.
  • Have students list five foods that people in the United States eat during a certain holiday season. After the students have listed their responses give each group a turn to share their list with the class. Then discuss with students why certain foods are associated with certain holidays (candy cane represents the shepherds staff). 
  • Discuss with students some of the foods that are found at fiestas. Some examples are Chicken Enchiladas, Tacos, Patacones (Fried Plantains), and Bolitas de Coco (Coconut Candies).
  •  Ask students what they feel an artifact is. Discuss some of the artifacts of celebrations we have in the U.S. For example the jack-o-lantern at Halloween and Christmas trees at Christmas. 
  • Tell students about the tradition of piñatas at the Christmas Fiesta. Have students compare and contrast similarities between the artifacts they think of and the piñata. 
  • Have a space in the back of the room where a piñata can be made. Allow students who have free time to go to the back of the room and work on the class piñata.
  •  Have the students fold their paper into six squares and list in each square something that they learned about fiestas and how they are celebrated. Also have them choose between a journal entry or writing a post card. They are to write their journal entry or their post card about their attendance at one of the three fiestas we discussed.


The comparisons of how different countries celebrate the same holidays will be assessed.

Naming and locating five Latin American countries on the map will be assessed individually and

orally throughout the unit.

The six things students list about fiestas will be assessed.

Journal entries or post cards will be assessed.

Extension Activities:  

Ancient Sites in Mexico
Mexico is a country with a rich history. It was once the home of two ancient empires: those of the Mayas and the Aztecs. Divide students into four groups to study these sites of Mesoamerican civilizations: Chichén Itzá, Teotihuacán, Tenochtitlán, and Palenque. Ask each group to draw a map or a picture of the site and to answer the following questions:

Home Learning:

Use the Internet to visit Fiesta de Guadalupe.  Read and be ready to share what you've learned.



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