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As darkness fell and a hush stilled the spectators, the Procession of Silence proceeded along the prescribed route.

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Blindfolded Jesus and banner

Image of Señor de La Columna

Purple hooded penitents carrying crosses

Jesus image carrying cross

Virgen de los Dolores standing above prone Jesus images

Virgen de la Soledad image carried by women

Good Friday in Oaxaca.

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Semana Santa (Holy Week) is in full flower in Oaxaca, the streets are filled with tourists, both domestic and international, and the city is very helpfully distributing a schedule of the most important activities for this Easter season.  Thus, on Tuesday evening I walked down to Independencia, which had been blocked to traffic, for the Procesión de Estandartes (Procession of Banners) — leaving from the Basílica de La Soledad and arriving at the Cathedral, a few blocks away.

The banners were carried by the members of the hermandad del Santísimo Rosario (Brotherhood of the Most Holy Rosary) and numbered well over 100.

In addition, the Chinas Oaxaqueñas de Casilda carried an image of Nuestra Señora del Rosario (Our Lady of the Rosary), the patron saint of the brotherhood.

Once all the banners had reached the plaza in front of the Cathedral, the way parted for Our Lady of the Rosary to enter the Cathedral.

The banners followed and were carefully positioned next to special lighting along the aisle walls on either side of the Cathedral.  It was quite stunning!

An hour-long choral concert followed — nothing like listening to sacred music under the soaring ceiling of Catedral Metropolitana de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción.  They had even installed video monitors, so all could see the orchestra and singers.

I returned to the Cathedral the next day to view the banners “up close and personal” and discovered informational labels had been placed in front of each estandarte — listing the date made, affiliated church, church festival, and the sponsor of the banner.

They will once again hit the road late tomorrow afternoon to join Good Friday’s, Procesión del Silencio (Procession of Silence).

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If it’s Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday), I must be in San Antonino Castillo Velasco.  I know there must be other villages that have colorful and moving celebrations, but the magic of San Antonino compels me to return year after year.  Who can resist the spectacle outside the village panteón of watching el Señor del Burro be piled high with a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables and festooned with garlands of peppers and pan (bread)?

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And, besides, each year there is always something a little new and different.  To wit, in previous years parishioners presented their offerings with great pride to a committee of three or four women who formally received the donations, thanked the benefactors, and priced the items (for sale later in the day to benefit the work of the church).  However, this year, in addition to offering blessings, it was the priest who interceded between the donors and the pricing committee to receive and express gratitude to each person for their contribution — be they grand or humble.

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Once the young priest finished receiving the goods, he donned his ceremonial robes, offered prayers, and blessed everything (including my camera!) and everyone with holy water.  This was the cue for palm fronds to be distributed to all and the altar boys and girls and disciples to assemble.

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With the burro fully loaded, a team of 20+ extremely strong men hoisted the litter carrying the image of San Salvador atop the burro and, followed by villagers and visitors carrying the remainder of the goods collected, the journey to the church set off — a ritual reenactment of the Biblical story of Jesus entering Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.  As the procession made its way to the church, the rhythmic sounds of the drum and horn leading the way were occasionally overpowered by shouts warning the men of topes (speed bumps) and low hanging telephone wires that must be navigated.

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The route is at least a kilometer from the panteón to San Antonino Obispo church and yesterday the sun was blazing, with not a cloud in the sky.  It is a grueling act of faith for the men who bear this massive burden.  The final hurtle was making their way up the steps and under the arch leading to the church atrium, where a platform to place el Señor del Burro awaited.

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By 1:00 PM, the bounty to be sold had been hand (head) carried or trucked to the display area set up on the opposite side of the church atrium and it was time for the outdoor mass to commence.  Thus, it was also time for us to duck out to browse the accompanying expo-venta of fabulous San Antonino embroidered blouses and dresses, flor inmortal artisan creations, the amazing and ongoing work of José García Antonio, the blind potter, and lastly find our favorite empanada vendor in the maze of food and artisan stalls set up outside the atrium walls.  Yummm…

You should also check out the Oaxaca-The Year After blog– rumor has it that Chris will be posting a video of the procession in the next day or two (or three).

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On this St. Patrick’s Day, you might want to check out this brief history lesson from PRI (Public Radio International), Mexico remembers the Irishmen who fought for Mexico against the US.

And, for more Irish in Mexico history, I’m re-posting my March 17, 2016 blog post, St. Brendan in Mexico?, below:

The Mexican-Irish connection may date back farther than most of us have considered. Séamus Ó Fógartaigh writes in the essay, Ireland and Mexico, “The first Irishman to set foot on Mexican soil may well have been St. Brendan the Navigator, who, according to legend, crossed the Atlantic Ocean in his ‘currach’ (traditional Irish rowing boat) in search of new converts to the Christian faith. An ancient manuscript found in Medieval European monasteries allegedly described his voyage to strange Western Lands, and is known as the Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis. Some historians claim that Christopher Columbus found inspiration for his seafaring adventure in the pages of the Navigatio of St. Brendan the Abbot.” And, he notes, there is even speculation that Quetzalcóatl was actually a deified Irish monk.

As you raise your pint of Guinness on this St. Patrick’s Day, consider this and the other Mexico and Ireland connections, while you sing a rousing chorus of Saint Patrick Battalion.

The song celebrates the Batallón de San Patricio, the Irish-American soldiers who deserted and fought alongside the Mexican army against the United States during the Mexican American War, 1846-1848. And, don’t forget to watch One Man’s Hero, the 1999 feature film about the San Patricios, starring Tom Berenger.

Sláinte mhaith! ¡Salud! And, remember, don’t drink and drive!

 

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I was recently in Mexico City, where I spent hours at the Secretaría de Educación Pública (Secretariat of Public Education) building marveling at the three floors of murals by Diego Rivera.  And so, in honor of International Women’s Day, some of the women in the murals…

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Happy International Women’s Day to the women of the world!  May your strength, creativity, intelligence, and love prevail.

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They came, they saw, they styled, and they carried flowers!  This past Friday, it was the turn of Prepatoria No. 6 to continue the “only in Oaxaca tradition” of Viernes del Llano — aka, Paseo Juárez el Llano or Paseo de los Viernes de Cuaresma.

For the first five Friday mornings of Lent, young women in their second, fourth, and sixth semesters at the prepatorias (grades 10-12 in the USA) of the Universidad Autónoma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca (UABJO), circle the statue of Benito Juárez in Llano Park, collecting bouquets of flowers, in this 45-year old tradition that traces its origin back to the nineteenth century — some say, even further.

There seemed to be a record number of young women this week — at least 30 — being cheered on by their families and home room supporters and ably assisted by their male flower-carriers.

Yes, there are winners in various categories (I think, largest number of flowers collected, most photogenic, best social media, and one or two others) and an overall “Madrina del Viernes” (Godmother of Friday) is chosen.  However, all seem to leave in great spirits — and blogger buddy Chris has even spotted a few down at the local salón de billar shooting a little pool later in the morning.

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Día de Carnaval (aka, Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Carnival), a day to let the good times roll before the sacrifices of the Lenten season, has come and gone.  And, again, blogger buddy Chris and I headed out to the surreal celebration in San Martín Tilcajete.  Driving into the village, one soon hears, rather than sees, that this isn’t a normal day in this wood carving village 17 miles south of the city — the streets are alive with the sound of cow bells.  Roaming the dirt back roads and paved main street, los encabezados (guys covered in motor oil or paint) come running past — with cow bells tied around their waist — making mischief and startling the unaware.

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Masks, all the better to hide one’s identity when making fun of the powers that be, are an international carnaval tradition.  Thus, in this village, known for its fantastically painted wood carvings, wooden masks play a big role in the celebration — including several by our friend Jesus Sosa Calvo and his family at Matlacihua Arte.

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This is a town where creativity reigns supreme and the costumes seem to get more whimsical and weirder every year.

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Oh, and did I mention there is a wedding?  Well, actually a parody of a traditional village wedding.  There is much pomp and circumstance, hilarity, and music — not to mention, breakfast and lunch for wedding guests — as participants move from the house of the mayor, to the home of the bride, and to City Hall for the civil ceremony.  Dancing in the plaza follows and then, at some predetermined time, there is a procession through the streets before arriving at another house where the happy “couple” kneel before “priest” for the religious ceremony.

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And, you might want to take a second look at those beautiful wedding guests with the smoldering eyes and modeling the gorgeous gowns.  They are not what they seem — and that includes the bride.

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The Spanish brought the Carnaval tradition to Mexico because, like many other seasonal celebrations, it conveniently coincided with indigenous festivals celebrating the “lost days” of the Mesoamerican calendar, “when faces were covered to repel or confuse evil.”  Evidently it caught on, “because it was one time when normal rules could be broken…”  And, San Martín Tilcajete certainly knows how!!!

By the way, many from the creative team of the movie Coco came to enjoy the festivities and renew acquaintances in this town that provided the inspiration for the alebrijes in the film.  “De Oaxaca tomamos los alebrijes, la celebración del Día de los Muertos, toda esa energía y colores están en los paisajes de la película. Quise ser lo más fiel en esta investi­gación y plasmarlo en la cin­ta…”  (“From Oaxaca we take the alebrijes, the celebration of the Day of the Dead, all the energy and colors are in the landscapes of the film…”) (NVI Noticias, 2/14/2018)

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Wedding wheels in Oaxaca…  Some are big

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And some are small.

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Though Santa Claus is making inroads into Mexico, it is today’s early morning visit by Los Reyes Magos (Three Kings, Wise Men) that children anxiously await, as it is Gaspar, Melchor, and Baltazar who bring gifts on January 6 — Día de los Reyes Magos (aka, Epiphany).

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Yesterday, the municipal DIF (Desarrollo Integral de la Familia) agency and radio station “La Zeta Noticias,” sponsored a kilometer of toys — an annual toy drive for Oaxaca’s disadvantaged children.  More than 3000 toys were collected to be distributed in a number of city and surrounding area neighborhoods. (Alas, only a fraction of the one million plus, 0 – 17 year olds, living in poverty in the state of Oaxaca.)

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Today, the Alameda and zócalo were filled with activities and freebies for kids.  At the booth below, each child received a toy and a carton of milk.

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San Antonio Arrazola and San Martín Tilcajete, the wood carving villages known for their fantastical alebrije, distributed paints, brushes, and paper for the artistically inclined.

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There were chess boards set up to play this most serious of games.

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And, the nacimiento (nativity scene) in the zócalo provided a popular “posing with the Tres Reyes” point.

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In addition to kings bringing kids gifts, January 6 also calls for a special cake — Rosca de Reyes (Three Kings bread).  Bakeries have been working overtime and temporary stalls were set up on a block of Calle Flores Magón — closing it to auto and truck traffic (though motorcycles were a different story).

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Of course, I bought one — though not the large family-size above!  The tradition is to eat and dunk in hot chocolate, but I opted to dunk in my usual half coffee/half chocolate morning beverage.

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By the way, there is a plastic Niño Dios figurine hidden in each Rosca de Reyes, remembering Mary and Joseph concealing baby Jesus from King Herod.  If you are the “lucky” person to bite into it, you must host a tamales and atole party on Candelaria (Candlemas), February 2nd.

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Three Kings Day is drawing to a close and the kings are returning to from whence they came.  I think Melchor is driving — hopefully he has GPS.

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I hope you will permit me just one more Noche de Rabanos (Night of the Radishes) post.  The Totomoxtle Decorado category wouldn’t be complete without showing this year’s entry, “Los huehuentones de Huautla de Jiménez” by Moisés Ruíz Sosa, last year’s first prize winner, who just happens to be the brother of this year’s winner, Marco Antonio Ruíz Sosa.

Much of the work by Moisés, at least that I have seen, uses natural and dyed corn husks to recreate traditional dance scenes.  This year’s inspiration came from the Mazateco Day of the Dead celebrations.

After the souls are released, their spirits are transformed into different forms personified by the Huehuentones (people of the navel — born from the center of the earth) who serve as a link between the departed and the living.

Beginning October 27, they roam the streets and visit families, house by house, to play and sing Mazatec themes of family, famine, traditions, customs, current events, politics, etc.

What captivates me most is the attention to detail and reverence for traditions by Moisés.

Learning their craft from their mother, Moisés and Marco are a couple of very talented brothers!

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A challenging year 2017 was — for Oaxaca, Mexico, USA, and the world.  However, lovely Oaxaca continues to survive with beauty and grace and helps keep me focused on trying to do the same.  I am grateful to her every day.  Thus, my New Year’s gift to you — sharing a month-by-month look back at the little things in 2017 that nourished my body and soul.

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January 2017 – Shibori flags flying over the courtyard of the Museo Textil de Oaxaca

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February 2017 – Agave somewhere between San Dionisio Ocotepec and Ocotlán de Morelos

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March 2017 – Quinceañera celebration in front of Santo Domingo de Guzmán

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April 2017 – Chapulines at the first Encuentro de Cocineras Tradicionales Oaxaca

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May 2017 – Teotitlán del Valle’s garbage truck.

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June 2017 – Grinding lime tree leaves for té de limon in Teotitlán del Valle

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July 2017 – Six layer rainy season view from Casita Colibrí

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August 2017 – Unión de Palenqueros de Oaxaca — and that means mezcal!

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September 2017 – Chickens roasting at earthquake relief benefit at Criollo restaurant

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October 2017 – Grilling at an outdoor “hall of smoke” in Villa de Mitla

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November 2017 – Dried chiles at Mercado Benito Juárez

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December 2017 – Decorated molinillos at the Feria del Pan y el Chocolate in Tlacolula de Matamoros

In the words of Linda Oaxaca, “Oaxaca you live in me.”  From my home to yours, adiós 2017 and bienvenidos 2018!!!

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I always prefer to go down to Oaxaca’s zócalo in the morning of December 23rd to watch the Noche de Rábanos artisans bring their creations into being — and before the masses descend.  At this year’s 120th annual Rábanos the crowds had already begun to gather behind the barriers by 10:30 AM.  Of course, the downside to going early is that some of the artisans are further along in their work than others.

Alas, in the category of Rábanos Tradicional (radishes representing traditional subject matter), the eventual first prize winner had only just begun…

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“Nacimiento Tradicional” by Hermenegildo Contreras Cruz

However, when I passed by, the eventual first prize winner in the category of Rábanos Libre (radishes free subject matter) was almost finished and the dragon was about to be slayed.

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“Corazón de Dragón” by Salvador Yrizar Díaz

In the Flor Inmortal (dried flower) category…  How could I have missed 2/3rds of the entries?!!  However, I did manage to capture the 2nd prize winner.

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“Una tarde en el Templo de Santo Domingo” by Rosalía Santiago Cornelio

Then there was the Totomoxtle (corn husks)…  Second place in the Totomoxtle Natural (natural husk color) category went to this delightful depiction of Oaxaca’s version of a county fair that even included a House of Horror and a Tilt-A-Whirl.

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“Feria Popular” by Jorge Ramos Gallegos

First place in the category of Totomoxtle Natural was awarded to…

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“Buscando la paz hastati. Virgencita de Juquila” by José Méndez Miranda

And, what can I say about “Nahualli” by Marco Antonio Ruíz Sosa, the winner of the Totomoxtle Decorado (dyed corn husks)?

Do you think Lewis Carroll was channeling shadow souls when he wrote Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland?  Kenneth Grahame when he wrote The Wind in the Willows?  Was C. S. Lewis guided by a nahualli when he wrote The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe?  And, what about Beatrix Potter???

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May Ernie Villarreal’s version of Pancho Claus by Chicano music legend, Eduardo “Lalo” Guerrero, bring the gift of joy to those near and far on this Nochebuena.

 

Pancho Claus

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through la casa
Not a creature was stirring, Caramba! ¿Que pasa?

Los ninos were all tucked away in their camas,
Some in vestidos and some in pajamas.
While Mama worked late in her little cocina,
El viejo was down at the corner cantina.

The stockings were hanging con mucho cuidado,
In hopes that St. Nicholas would feel obligado
To bring all the children, both buenos y malos,
A Nice batch of dulces and other regalos.

Outside in the yard, there arouse such a grito,
That I jumped to my feet, like a frightened cabrito.

I went to the window and looked out afuera,
And who in the world, do you think que era?

Saint Nick in a sleigh and a big red sombrero
Came dashing along like a crazy bombero!

And pulling his sleigh instead of venados,
Were eight little burros approaching volados.

I watched as they came, and this little hombre
Was shouting and whistling and calling by nombre.

¡Ay, Pancho! ¡Ay, Pepe! ¡Ay, Cuca! ¡Ay, Beto!
¡Ay, Chato! ¡¡Ay, Chopo! ¡Maruca and ¡Nieto!

Then standing erect with his hand on his pecho
He flew to the top of our very own techo.
With his round little belly like a bowl of jalea,
He struggled to squeeze down our old chimenea.

Then huffing and puffing, at last in our sala,
With soot smeared all over his red suit de gala.

He filled the stockings with lovely regalos,
For none of the children had been very malos.

Then chuckling aloud and seeming contento,
He turned like a flash and was gone like the viento.

And I heard him exclaim and this is VERDAD,
Merry Christmas to all, And to all ¡Feliz Navidad!

 

Felices fiestas to all my wonderful readers — you and Oaxaca inspire me each and every day!!!

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I think I spied some familiar figures in the radishes at this year’s Noche de Rabanos.  Could this be carver, Zeny Fuentes?

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“Alebrijes de San Martín Tilcajete” by Sergio Luís Raymundo Sánchez

Oaxaqueños can tell you, this is their own, Señor del Rayo.

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“Señor del Rayo” by Gabriela Nayelly López Vásquez

And then there is this guy.  I’m guessing Maestro Francisco Toledo.

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“Oaxaca de mis amores” by Omar Díaz Ventura

What do you think?

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The 120th edition of the “only in Oaxaca” Noche de Rábanos is coming.  Tomorrow (December 23) the zócalo will be filled with radishes carved into religious, cultural, and fantastical creations.

Scenes from last year…

And, it’s not just a night of radishes, there will also be flor inmortal (a type of dried flower) and totomoxtle (corn husk) artisan creations on display and competing for prizes.  Not to be missed!

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