Happy birthday Mérida! On January 6, 2019 our city gets to celebrate its 477th birthday, right in the midst of Mérida Fest, a cultural festival with dozens of activities to enjoy.

Long before Mérida was conquered by the Spaniards, it was known as the Maya city of T’ho and was an important cultural center for centuries. But on January 6, 1542, Mérida was officially designated a new city by one of the Montejo family, Francisco de Montejo “El Mozo.”

There were actually three Francisco de Montejo conquerors: “El Adelantado,” the father, “El Mozo,” the son, and “El Sobrino,” the nephew. Francisco de Montejo “El Mozo”, born in 1502, left Cádiz, Spain in 1527 for Cozumel, beginning the first military campaign of the conquest of Yucatán, his father having failed in his own attempt. He was designated by his father to govern Tabasco, and he married and had a son. But in 1542 he achieved the surrender of the western Yucatán lands and founded Campeche and Mérida.  There was a Maya uprising which was quelled in 1546, and the eastern portion of Yucatán was also then conquered. Francisco de Montejo “El Mozo” then lived as a respected citizen in his home on the south side of the Plaza Grande in Mérida, but later moved to Guatemala where he died in 1565.

The stones from many Maya buildings were used to build colonial buildings which still stand today. The most notable of these is the Cathedral of San Ildefonso (1561-1598) which is located on the east side of the Plaza Grande. It is the oldest cathedral on the American continent.

Another big reason to celebrate January 6 is Three Kings Day, also known as Epiphany, the day after the twelve days of Christmas. This is the day when Christians celebrate the revelation of God in human form (the incarnation of Jesus Christ). The celebration is based on the visit of the Magi, three priests from Persia who came to Bethlehem to celebrate the birth of Christ. In Mexico, children receive gifts just as the Magi brought gifts to the baby Jesus, and they are traditionally left inside a shoe under the Christmas tree. A traditional hot chocolate, accompanied by the “Rosca de Reyes” cake, is usually served between 5 and 7 pm. The cake is an oval wreath, or crown, made out of egg bread and decorated with dried fruit and sprinkled with sugar. Inside the cake are several little plastic dolls representing the baby Jesus, and whoever gets the piece with the doll is designated “godparent” and must host a party with tamales on Candelaria, February 2.

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