About This Festival
On the outskirts of Mexico City, the urban municipality of Tultepec is home to more than 50% of Mexico's hand-crafted fireworks production, making it the ideal location for a huge, multi-day display of festive explosives. Originally a 19th-century celebration held by local fireworks production guilds each year on March 8 in honor of San Juan de Dios, the patron saint of fireworks makers, the present-day incarnation of the Feria de la Pirotécnia Nacional (National Pyrotechnic Festival) first sparked in 1989.
Each year since, about 100,000 people have descended upon this usually quiet area for nine exciting, dangerous days in March, running, skipping, hopping, jumping and dancing through the world's most prolonged (and waiver-free) display of pyrotechnics. The festival includes three main events of powder-keg glory, as well as carnival rides, kiosks hawking regional street food, musical concerts, dance performances, and a ceremonial release of paper balloons.
Set it Aflame, and They Will Come
Though Tultepec had been the fireworks hub of Mexico since the 19th century, in 1988, tragedy struck: a fireworks stand exploded in Mexico City's La Merced Market, and the resulting fire killed 61 people. Fireworks and their production were soon banned within city limits, and almost immediately, Tultepec's fortunes began to decline.
Enter a brilliant plan conceived by Tultepec's city council. The March 8th celebration of San Juan de Dios' Day had long been popular, so money and firepower was invested in expanding these festivities as a potential source of sales and tourism revenue. The gamble paid off, and from its debut in March 1989, the National Pyrotechnic Festival was a financial success. These days, the festival brings as many as 10 million pesos (almost $800,000 US) to the local coffers.
Bulls, Castles and Balloons, Oh My!
A holdover from the original saint day, the festival's main event is a pamplonada, a blazing spin on the running of the bulls. Some 250 toritos—intricate bull-shaped frames festooned with fireworks—are paraded with great fanfare through the streets of Tultapec for as many as six hours. These tall, flaming and expensive bovines are built of wood, wire, dried plants and cartonería (a rock-hard form of papier mâche) by teams of 30-40 people. Some of these teams are descendants of local fireworks-guild members, and others travel from other fireworks production centers around the state of Mexico, such as San Pedro de la Laguna and Almoloya de Juárez.
Another of the festival's surefire crowd-pleasers is the contest of castillos, 80- to 100-foot-tall constructions of castles that whirr, slide, zoom and spin when lit. These huge, ingenious Rube Goldberg-esque creations can take as many as 15 days to build, and as long as a half-hour to go through all their showy machinations.
One of the festival's best-attended events is a talent contest that features musicians from around Mexico City and outlying areas, showcasing different styles of music popular in the region, such as danzon, bolero and mambo. Fireworks displays accompany these concerts, and spectators are free to frolic amongst the gunpowder and ember showers, making it all the more amazing that there are few reported cases of festival-based injuries each year.
A much more peaceful event is the large-scale release of cantoya balloons, a tradition with roots in China and famously celebrated at an annual festival in the nearby state of Michoacan. Cantoya balloons are often-complex geometric constructions made of thin, colorful sheets of origami-style paper and propelled by a simple candle flame. During the 2013 festival, a Guinness-record 16,000+ cantoya balloons were released into the sky, and the goal for 2014 is 17,000.
Keep an Eye on the Facebook Page
There is no official website for the festival, so all announcements for the upcoming year's events are made on the Feria de la Nacional Pirotécnia Tultepec Facebook page. This includes information about the schedule, event locations, parking, suggested precautions and musical headliners. Updated announcements usually begin appearing in late January.