Julia Arnold

Christmas In A Small Pueblo

Have spent Christmas in many places in this world; Germany, Korea, Vietnam, many locations in the US.

Mexico is different; it is still a very religious season here. Not quite the dizzying commercial whirlwind as in the US. There is gift giving and parties; some decorations usually of the Holy Family and now the people living close to the US or who have been to the US are adopting US style decorations for their houses including Christmas trees. Still the season is mostly a religious one.

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The usual first celebration is on December 12th, the day of the Virgin of Guadalupe is honored. The Virgin is a symbol that all of Mexico seems to accept as their own, her image is on everything; bags, buses, cars, houses and in shrines, in homes, businesses it seems her likeness is everywhere.

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Originally the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared before Juan Diego, a Mexican indigenous and honorable man. She is the most prominent and respected religious symbol in Mexico.

On or near the date of 12 December there will be found pilgrims making a pilgrimage to a church or shrine and these groups of pilgrims can get very large. Some walk, some run, some bicycle for miles forming a long line to the chosen destination.

Some people carry homemade banners and others carry elaborate ones while some others will carry her image to be blessed by the priest. Some pilgrims sing or pray as they move along others are in respectful silence.

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Virgin of Guadalupe Pilgrimage

When they arrive at their destination, a church or shrine, there is a mass and a blessing of the people. The site is bright with lights and candles and some people get very emotional.

This small town has its own event at the local church which isn’t old, as far as churches go in Mexico, which have churches going back to the  Conquistadors. We do have a shrine near the lighthouse on its own hill, people use to venerate the Virgin.

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Traditional Christmas Posadas

One other custom of the season is the Posadas. While in the Yucatan I saw first hand a local Posada. It was several local children going together from house to house singing Christmas songs and carrying palm leaves. One child carried a small container and people would come out of their houses and drop a few coins in their little box or can after they had sung a few songs.

I scurried about finding coins and made sure they were Mexican Pesos and when they came to my house they looked a little puzzled as whether I knew what they were doing. When I came out with my sweater and scarf on and greeted them in Spanish they began to sing and smile.

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Traditional Christmas Posadas

When I dropped the coins in their little box they all looked in it and were smiling so I guess I did it right. In other parts of Mexico the Posada is more traditional and quite elaborate. A boy and a girl are selected to play Mary and Joseph and they dress in costumes and Mary rides a donkey led by Joseph from house to house looking for a place to stay for the night like in the bible, only they are followed by children and adults. Some singing goes on and eventually they reach the last house and are allowed in and there is a party with music and food that goes on for hours.

This little pueblo sometimes does this or a limited version of it but it is in the Barrios of the town. I sometimes wish they would come out to the Gringo homes but most are far out of town and that would be a problem for them to get to.

Soon in the stores and pastry shops, large rings made of bread like cake and dried fruits will be for sale. They are called Rosca de Reyes. I always buy one or two to share with friends and neighbors.

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Rosca de Reyes

Tradition, I’m told, is that if you find a little plastic figure in your portion you are the lucky one that throws a party next year. I wonder if this is true or not? I don’t care, having a party is a good thing and finding a little plastic baby in your cake is a nice surprise.

The longer I live in Mexico the more I learn about the culture, traditions, history and language(s). I am endlessly fascinated with Mexico. The many Fiestas, national holidays and accompanying customs provide a living classroom to learn about Mexico and her people. Their patience and openness with me has provided a wonderful adventure and keeps me stimulated to learn more.

I hope your Christmas season is as charming as mine in this little pueblo on the coast of the Sea of Cortez, adios.

You can read more stories by Julia Arnold in her blog HERE >>

Another Slice of Life in Mexico

As I write this it is the Sunday the day before Revolution Day here in Mexico and the little Pueblo I live in on the shore of the Sea of Cortez, better known to Gringos as the Gulf of California, there was a parade.

This is a very small town with a lot of children and parades are a part of life here as they are all over Mexico. As the young as participants lined up for their part in the parade my mind went back to the first parades I saw in Mexico. I was staying in San Miguel Allende Guanajuato, north of Mexico City.

I was taking my first class in Spanish there and living in a small efficiency apartment. On a weekend I decided to walk from my apartment up the hill past the church and what was a cloister to the “Jardin” or Garden in the center of the town.

I was standing on the corner just south of the “Jardin” when I could hear a parade coming from my left. The music and the fireworks were unmistakable. There were men and women dressed as Aztecs and every once in a while some men dashed forward off the parade with this huge tube that must have been three or four feet long and load it with a rocket and shoot it off towards the sky with a whoosh and loud bang as it exploded above us.

The participants weren’t just marching they were doing an elaborate dance moving in circles and shaking rattles and beating drums as the decorations on their bodies made soft metal sound, it was quite impressive; with huge feather moving up and down on their costumes. I was enthralled at the display and energy of the dancers as the route was all up hill.

Then to my astonishment I heard a similar whoosh and bang and here comes another parade up the hill I had climbed from my right. I wondered if they would meet at this corner I was standing on as the two progressed up the hill one to the right and one to the left. Sure enough they both arrived at the corner on which I and now lots of other people were standing on watching this huge display of energy and beautiful costumes.

I noticed one figure close to me and recognized that he worked in the bank and had helped me just the previous day, now he was in full regalia with a black wig and dancing tirelessly. Somehow the leaders of both parades came together and just how they managed to decide who went first I couldn’t figure out; did they toss a coin, use rock,scissors, paper ? Just that the ones on the right moved ahead while the ones on the left continued to dance and shoot rockets until the ones on the right cleared the way then they too moved on to the big church on the “Jardin”. I felt as though I had witnessed a slice of life in San Miguel.

Back to today’s parade in San Felipe there were no Aztecs, no feathers or rockets it was more home grown with little boys wearing fake mustaches, carrying fake rifles and sporting huge sombreros while proud parents took their photos like parents and grandparents do the world over. The little girls in their revolution dresses and bigger kids in their uniforms were more serious as the drums and bugles played while trucks carried children on decorated floats and waved. It was a grand sight to see. Again I felt that I witnessed another slice of life in Mexico.

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Julia.