Fiestas, May through August by Micki Wendt
After the excitement and drama of Carnaval and the Semana Santa Passion Play in the spring, things do slow down noticeably around Ajijic in May, coinciding with the mass exit of the snowbirds back to their northern homes.
However, the lull doesn’t last for long! May 1 is Mexican Labor Day, a legal holiday for schools, banks, and employees, but with no parades or public gatherings.
May 3 is Dia de la Santa Cruz, which is also the patron saint day of the construction workers, a large and loud group in Ajijic. In Ajijic it is a minor fiesta day, meaning that construction sites will be having parties starting around noon featuring cohetes (noisy sky rockets), food, drink, and maybe some music, all of which is paid for by the owners of the project.
Altars with decorated crosses will be erected on these sites with large buckets of ice cold beer placed in front of them and offered up, and then, heartily consumed by the workers in the summer heat. This can happen anywhere where there is an active construction site. There is a friendly competition among the workers around town to see who can make the most noise as these very thirsty and hard-working guys get to blow off a little steam.
At the time of this writing, San Juan has already started its very traditional 9-day novenario for Dia de la Cruz with processions, bandas, and cohetes!
In the more traditional neighborhoods of Ajijic – namely 6 Esquinas to the West, and Upper Ajijic – the San Sebastian neighborhood, there will also be lovingly decorated altars constructed in front of many houses towards the late afternoon. The altars and crosses will be festooned with flowers and streamers, and draped materials for the background. It is most enjoyable to walk around these areas to admire the altars and show respect for the tradition. The families will be out in the streets, rather like a block party. Please ask permission before taking pictures of the altars – they are very personal to the families who build them.
Part of the custom is to place fruits, foods, and other staple items on the altar in order to share with other neighbors who do the same. The 6 Esquinas area has a small fiesta with a banda, small procession, and some delicious guayaba ponche, around sunset.
May 5 is English for Cinco de Mayo, otherwise noted as the Battle of Puebla Day – absolutely NOT to be confused with Mexican Independence Day, which comes in September. Outside of the state of Puebla, there is little public celebration of this day, unlike in the United States, where Cinco de Mayo has become sort of a Cerveza holiday, but no one seems to know why.
Mother’s Day, which is always May 10 in Mexico, is somewhat of an unofficial national holiday, as the people lovingly honor their mothers and grandmothers, who are considered saints for their selfless devotion to their children, which seems to produce the happiest kids I’ve ever seen anywhere. Since most Mexican women over the age of 18 are mothers, there will be many large, family parties and picnics around town. Many small businesses will be closed and other services may be hard to obtain.
Gringo warning: It is the Mexican custom for mothers to be serenaded in the middle of the night with very affectionate songs and mananitas by male singers and possibly entire mariachi bands roaming through the streets. If you live in the village, you might hear some of this. Whatever you do, don’t complain about the “noise”! This is an endearing, heartfelt tradition here, so go with the flow. A local traditional singer told me they have to start in the middle of the night because they have so many homes to go to!
Aside from weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, etc., there are no major public events in Ajijic during the summer. However, the two neighboring villages – San Juan, and San Antonio, both have their Patron Saint fiestas, almost back to back in June, in case you are in need of a little excitement, or missed the fabulously fun San Andres Fiesta.
San Antonio’s fiesta concludes June 13 after the traditional 9 days of morning, noon, and night cohetes, masses, prayers, mananitas, processions with native danzantes, with food, drinks, and dancing to the bandas in the evening. Local lore has it that the final fireworks on June 13 bring on the rainy season – and it happened exactly that way last year!
Most Patron Saint fiestas have a lovely and dynamic procession before the evening Mass which may be any time from 5 – 7pm. Things quite down for the Mass, and afterwards, there are food, drinks, and dancing to a professional banda in the plaza starting at 8 or 9 and going into the wee hours.
A couple days later, the San Juan fiesta starts, and then later concludes on June 24. One really nice thing about these summer fiestas is that the days are much longer, and you can get a great view of the sunset and the lake from the top of the Ferris Wheel, if you are feeling adventurous.
If you must select only one day to go to a Patron Saint Fiesta, go on the very last day, as the fiestas start small and end big on the last day.
A relatively new tradition is the Queen of the Lake fiesta in Chapala on the 2nd or 3rd Sunday in July starting at 10AM, exact date not confirmed at this time. This is the largest of several Virgin processions in this area, honoring the visiting Virgin de Zapopan who deserves an entire article in her own right, as she is credited with bringing the lake back from near disaster several times in recent decades. The lake nearly dried up, the people danced and prayed to her, the skies opened up with torrents of rain, and the Lake Chapala was miraculously brought back to life
This procession, Mass, and fiesta include very diverse and dynamic elements of Mexican culture: numerous groups of Azteca Danzantes from different regions, other Catholic groups including the high prelates from Guadalajara, Charros, and throngs of people from local as well as all 9 of the lakeside villages. There are even large metallic fish sculptures from each town right up on the altar of the outdoor Mass, a symbol of the ecological awareness that also plays a part in this religious fiesta. There is also a wonderful cacophony as one can hear both the traditional church music and the drumming of the Danzantes at the same time, with all worshipping together in their preferred way, as the traditional Charros look on.
After the Mass, La Virgin and her followers proceed around the Chapala Malecon to the end of the pier and back again, when she is then placed in a boat which takes her out with a flotilla of boats to Scorpion Island for a night of devotion. When she returns the next day, a final Mass for the infirm, is said at the church in Chapala. In the meantime, weather permitting, there will be music, dancing, and a castillo in front of the church Sunday evening.
Here is a slideshow of the 2011 procession and fiesta of the Queen of the Lake, not to be missed!
A couple of the villages across Lake Chapala have their Patron Saint Fiestas in August, including San Luis Soyatlan around the 10-19 of August, although the final date is always on a Sunday. The traditional fiesta format is followed, including a soccer game between the local team, called Los Tacos Dorados, and the Absent Sons from the United States, who are called Las Hamburguesas. The village of San Nicolas also joins with San Luis Soyatlan to celebrate. Sounds like great fun
Tuxcueca’s Patron Saint is San Bartolo, whose day is celebrated August 24, practically coinciding with the nearby San Luis Soyatlan Fiesta.
The deliciously agreeable and peaceful rainy season here is a great time to wind down, relax, count your blessings, and save your energy for the really busy upcoming fiesta season which starts in September and lasts for the next several months.
Submitted by Mickey Wendt-updated by Ajijic News