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Here’s Everything You Need To Know About Mexico’s ‘El Viejo’ Traditions That Ring In The New Year

Celebrating the new year in Veracruz, is a time for young people in towns across the coastal Mexican state, to dress up as “viejitos“ or senior citizens, and take to the streets to ask for “aguinaldos” and celebrate a tradition called El Viejo (The Old Man), which is believed to date back to 1875. Here’ what the tradition is all about.

A lively end of year tradition, typical of Veracruz. 

In the state capital, the youngsters parade through the streets to the sound of drums and trumpets to ask for money from drivers and pedestrians they pass along the way. In Veracruz’s Isthmus of Tehuantepec region, young men are the ones who don the costumes of both men and women to dance in the streets for a few coins.

 Typical of ’El Istmo de Tehuantepec’  El Viejo started in 1875 in the Port of Veracruz as a social protest by workers.

 It is said that that the tradition first startred when workers clanked cans and banged on loud drums, asking for Christmas bonuses, called “aguinaldos” in Mexico, outside the home of a rich factory owner who was celebrating his Christmas Eve dinner.

‘El viejo’ was originally inspired by a Korean immigrant who settled in Veracruz.

The tradition lost it’s political aspects and became more what it is today when a Korean man who lived in Veracruz dressed up like the  ‘viejito’ representing the old year in a Japanese almanac that he had. He would parade through the streets on the last day of the year followed by a little child representing the New Year, along with a noisy group of people playing guitars and  güiros, banging pans or setting off  cohetes and singing the following verses asking for their  aguinaldo:

Una limosna  para este pobre viejo, una limosna para este pobre viejo, que ha dejado hijos, que ha dejado hijos, para este año nuevo.

An alm  for this poor old man, An alm for this poor old man, who has left children, who has left children, for this New Year.

Nowadays, the Old Man is usually accompanied by an Old Woman.

The woman carries a baby doll—and the actors are usually university students dressed up with incredible masks and old clothes. They all stop by every store in downtown Xalapa asking for their aguinaldos. It’s a fun tradition where you gladly give your loose  pesos and tostones (50 centavo coin) to this happy crowd ushering in the New Year.

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