General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 20 May 2019/5 Alligator
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Dr. Catherine DiCesare

Question for March 2019

Did the Aztecs celebrate gods’ birthdays? Asked by St. Christopher’s The Hall School. Chosen and answered by Dr. Catherine DiCesare.

Worshipping Huitzilopochtli, Florentine Codex Book III
Worshipping Huitzilopochtli, Florentine Codex Book III (Click on image to enlarge)

Yes, the Aztecs did have birthday celebrations for some gods. Among the most important was the birthday of the Aztecs’ great solar deity Huitzilopochtli, on the day 1 Flint in the 260-day calendar. The sixteenth-century chronicle of the Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún describes elaborate temple offerings to celebrate Huitzilopochtli’s birth. Ritual offerings included burning incense and tobacco. Dishes of prepared food came from the palace kitchens, and wine merchants sent bowls filled with the Mexican alcoholic drink known as pulque, along with special “sucking straws” to drink it. Huitzilopochtli also received an abundance of colorful capes made from the precious feathers of birds that included the tropical quetzal macaw, the blue cotinga, the roseate spoonbill, the white heron, and the hummingbird - the last perhaps the most meaningful for Huitzilopochtli, “Hummingbird of the South (or Left).”

Feasting to Huitzilopochtli, Florentine Codex Book III
Feasting to Huitzilopochtli, Florentine Codex Book III (Click on image to enlarge)

Even the emperor Motecuhzoma II brought gifts, bringing armloads of flowers to the temple. Sahagún describes the king offering a wide array of fragrant flowers; these included magnolia flowers, maize flowers, cacao flowers, and yellow and blue tobacco flowers. The flowers were spread out and carefully arranged as a kind of shield, so that their perfumes would blanket Huitzilopochtli’s temple. All of these gifts were accompanied by feasting and drinking. What is more, Huitzilopochtli’s birthday of 1 Flint was considered to be so special that men who were been born on this day were fated to become great, brave warriors who would gain honor and riches, while women born at this time were destined to be gifted, courageous, and strong.

Images from the Florentine Codex (original in the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence) scanned from our own copy of the Club Internacional del Libro 3-volume facsimile edition, Madrid, 1994.

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