November 12 is Dia del Cartero — Postman’s Day — in Mexico. It’s the day of the year when everyone remembers their local postman and gives a small gift in appreciation of the work they do throughout the year.
In Spanish, the word for post is correo, from the verb correr, meaning to run. It’s a direct reference to the original ‘message runners’ (corredores) which preceded the formalized postal service.
Postal services are not new to Mexico. During Aztec times, the main pathways and roads connecting different locations had small towers placed alongside them, set apart every ten kilometers (six miles) or so. With these in place, relay runners would carry written messages—as well as other items—using the towers as relay and distribution stations. Legend has it that Emperor Moctezuma ate fresh fish, caught daily off the shores of Veracruz, by means of this ‘relay delivery’ system.
When Hernán Cortés brought horses from Europe to Mexico during the colonial era, horseback riders replaced runners as a means to carry the messages and goods between the main towns and cities across the country.
In 1813, Mexico established its first formal postal service, which delivered regular messages between Mexico City and the provinces each month. In 1824, Mexico’s Treasury Department took over the postal system and this led to the issuance of Mexico’s first postage stamp, which featured on it the ‘father’ of Mexico’s revolution, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla.
Further developments of the Mexican postal service took place during the reign of Maximilian, which included the installation of post boxes in urban areas. In 1910, Porfirio Diaz ordered the construction of the country’s main post office, the Palacio Postal, a grand building that remains in operation to this day in the downtown historic district of Mexico City. By this time, trains were also being used to ferry messages and goods around the country.
Today, the use of railways has all but vanished; road and air transport systems are used as the means to deliver post and parcels over long distances. However, the ‘last mile’ of delivery continues to be undertaken by an army of dedicated postmen (and increasingly, postwomen—although in Mexico, this remains a male-dominated job) on foot, cycle, and motorcycle.
Dia del Cartero was first established in Mexico on November 12, 1931, and in 1947 the post office printed its first special stamp commemorating the work and efforts of the nation’s postal delivery men, labeling it “Anonymous Hero.”
If you live in Mexico, it’s traditional to give your local postman a gift—usually a small cash tip on this day, or a day near November 12 each year. The amount is discretionary; $50 pesos would be fine, and double that amount if you regularly receive ‘snail mail’ post in Mexico. This token of appreciation is an important cultural protocol as well as making a contribution to the people who serve your local community.
See Also: Tipping culture in Mexico
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