Mexican Gifts, Flavored by Cultural History

Mexican gifts are as varied and colorful
as the Mexicans who make them. Their
history often provides the inspiration.

Whether decorative or functional (or both), the crafts and artwork of Mexico are uniquely influenced by the traditions of various Mexican cultures. Here are three good examples:

The Maya

Mayan civilization consisted of many small kingdoms in southern Mexico, dating back to 1800 BC. Though advanced in several fields of knowledge, the Maya are best remembered for their step pyramids. Here, a handcrafted ceramic vase recalls the pyramids in its design.

Mayan ceramics and sculpture from c.250–700 AD survive in museums, and their religious symbols and legendary heroes find new life in Mexican crafts and artwork of today. These decorative ceramic plates depict gods, priests, warriors and great rulers.

Mayan culture declined after 700 AD, but some cities continued to flourish even after the Spanish arrived in 1519. It took the Spanish nearly 180 years to gain total control over the decentralized Mayan kingdoms.

But Mayan culture survived. Descendants of the ancient Maya are still found in significant numbers in the region formerly occupied by their ancestors. Ancient figures like this "Maya Lord Jaguar," commemorated on a handsome ceramic mask, often appear on Mexican gifts.

The Aztecs

The Aztecs occupied central Mexico for 300 years until the Spanish conquest in 1521. Aztec culture derived from the more ancient Toltecs. This finely detailed ceramic "Warrior from Tula" is a replica of a Toltec guard from the temple of Quetzalcoatl at Tula, seen in the photo.

Aztec ancestors known as Mexica came from the north around 1250 AD. Legend foretold that a vision would reveal the location where they were to settle. The vision, an eagle perched on a cactus and holding a serpent, is depicted on Mexican gifts like this ceramic plate, and on the Mexican coat of arms.

Around 1325, the Aztecs founded the city of Tenochtitlan where Mexico City now stands. The city became the capital of the Aztec Empire. This artist's "Aztec Guide Dog" echoes artifacts found in city of Teotihuacán.

Within 60 years of the Spanish conquest, smallpox and typhus had decimated 80% of the indigenous population of central Mexico. Social cohesion was destroyed, and the Aztecs faded into history. But Aztec designs like the well-known Aztec calendar are still seen in Mexican gifts.

The Huichol

The Huichol are a distinct ethnic group in the remote mountains of west central Mexico. They remained relatively isolated and resisted Spanish influences, and so have retained much of their original culture. This is recalled in their beautifully crafted Mexican gifts.

Colorful beadwork, for which the Huichol are well known, is affixed onto wood and other rigid materials with beeswax adhesive. The finely detailed designs on these Mexican gifts are skillfully rendered in tiny beads. Here are two of our personal favorites:

  • These beaded masks and other art pieces depict cultural and religious symbols in beautiful designs.

  • This artisan's stunning Huichol beaded necklaces are painstakingly crafted and look lovely against the skin or over a plain neckline.

Lots More Mexican Gift Ideas!

NOVICA, in association with National Geographic, offers hundreds more Mexican gifts - note the variety of products! Below is a sampling, and we encourage you to visit Novica (opens to Mexico section), and discover favorites of your own.

Pottery & Tableware

Ceramic bowl, "Autumn Daisy" is beautifully hand painted inside and out.

Museum replica vase, "Maya King of Tikal" depicts classic figures in outstanding handcrafted detail.

Handmade blown glassware - sets of six glasses for every occasion, dishwasher safe (top rack).

Home Décor

Mirror framed in glass mosaic, lovely bright colors for a front hallway. Vidri Arte lives up to their slogan "Light Through Glass" by teaching this skill to Mexicans with special needs.

Welcome sign - a smiling cat of cut ironwork, this would make a friendly and whimsical housewarming gift. The cut iron "Gecko in the Window" is very "Mexico" too!

Wool Zapotec rugs and runners - hand woven, smooth and soft - feature traditional Mexican diamond patterns.


Novica brings you original paintings by Mexican artists, sorted by style or subject or medium. Select one, then navigate to others with the drop-down menu at the upper left of the screen. These Mexican gifts will please the tastes of many different recipients.

Personally, I'm drawn to the folk art: "Grandfather's Stories" in acrylic depicts the magical characters envisioned by the children as they listen. Colorful and cheery, lovely for a child's room!

Other cool gifts from Mexico

Auto part statuettes - cleverly made from recycled auto and bicycle parts and scrap metal. Many professions are represented, as well as vehicles, animals, and other objects.

Hammock - This might be unexpected as a Mexican gift, but did you know that the Maya used hammocks back before the Spanish conquest? These strong hammocks and hammock swings are made by the Maya Artists of the Yucatan.

Leather bags & backpacks - hand made of high grade leather with quality details. This one called "Passages," with cotton handles and an adjustable shoulder strap, is a perfect size for frequent use.

Jewelry - Novica's Mexican jewelry collection boasts over 1000 pieces! No need to bend over a jewelry counter to find the perfect gift for your recipient - just use the drop-down menu at the upper left of the page.

You will find hundreds more handcrafted gift items, nicely organized for your convenience at Novica. My experience with National Geographic shops has always been excellent - quality products and prompt, courteous service. I'm confident that yours will be too. Enjoy!

Fair Trade Mexican gifts honor a rich history
and highlight the impressive talents
of contemporary Mexican artists.

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Logo photo by Jane M. Sawyer; statues at Tula by Arturo Delfin,
both courtesy of Mayan pyramid courtesy of Microsoft.