History, Pageantry, and Partying on Display in Cozumel

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Fiesta de la Santa Cruz is equal parts tradition and celebration

More than just pristine coral reefs, snorkeling in crystal clear waters and picturesque sunsets along powdery white beaches, Cozumel is an island with a rich history steeped in culture and traditions.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the Fiesta de Santa Cruz (or Festival of the Holy Cross), one of the island’s oldest celebrations, which has evolved into an internationally recognized festival recently considered for UNESCO Cultural and Natural Heritage designation.

From April 26 – May 3, the festival gives attendees a chance to simultaneously indulge in island-style bacchanalia while also observing a deeply religious celebration that honors the power of the Holy Cross.

Safe Passage Honored

Also known as El Cedral Fair – after the quaint town where the celebration is held – the tradition goes back more than a century-and-a-half when Casimiro Cárdenas settled on the island. Cárdenas was one of a few villagers who escaped to Cozumel and El Cedral, after a murderous raid during the Caste War of Yucatan decimated his mainland home.

According to legend, Cárdenas was protected from the marauders by a wooden cross he clutched to his chest during the onslaught. After taking refuge on Cozumel, Cárdenas vowed to honor the sign of the Holy Cross, and the festival was born in that pledge.

Though Cárdenas is credited with founding the festival, 21 families also found safe passage to Cozumel and that patronage is still celebrated to this day as direct descendants of the original families kick off the opening ceremonies every year.

Party Like its 1848

As for the festival itself, the celebration provides a slice of Mexican and Mayan life that spans generations. Cultural exhibitions highlight the history of the festival and native societies, while games and sporting events like rodeos and bullfighting make it an uncommon experience. There’s even a half-marathon held during the festival, bringing things full circle, almost literally.

Dances are among the most colorful and popular events during the festival with Cabeza de Cochino and La Cinta taking center stage. Feasts are held throughout, with native cuisine featuring both exotic and well-known dishes offered. If you’re looking to flex your culinary muscles, as well as your palate, sign up for special culinary classes held during the festival at Cozumel Palace, just 12 miles up the road.

The week of the festival, colorful and musical parades are held along and around the main square of El Cedral, with many of them paying homage the devoted founding families. Pageants featuring incredible headdresses and costumes are held to crown La Madrina (The Godmother) and Queen of the Festival, as well as younger but equally adorned participants, including the Most Beautiful Flower.

Though it’s only held once a year, the Fiesta de la Santa Cruz represents much of what makes Cozumel unique year-round. Don’t miss the chance to see all of the best it has to offer.

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