Fiestas, January through Easter by Micki Wendt
Far from the Northern dread of returning to work and school and battling the cold after The Holidays, the fun keeps going in cheerful Ajijic, starting on New Year’s Day.
A relatively new tradition is the wacky and wild January 1 New Year’s Day parade which starts at 6 Corners around 12 noon and heads east down Ocampo to Constitucion where it turns north on Galeana, the street behind the church. It then turns west on Zaragoza, drops down to the Ajijic Plaza, then heads west again on Hidalgo to the West Side soccer field for a friendly futbol game between 2 barrios of the 6 Corners area. Each year the parade seems to get bigger and better!
January 6 is Three Kings Day (Los Tres Reyes) in Mexico , the day that kids get their “gifts” via piñatas at a celebration in the Plaza around 6 pm. Come and see lots of exuberantly happy and well-behaved kids, ecstatic to get their little trinkets and candies. The 3 Kings just might show up with more, if we are lucky…
Around the middle of January, the very popular Virgin de Zapopan makes her 9-pueblo tour of the lakeside villages, where she is revered as The Queen of the Lake. She stays overnight in each of the towns’ churches with a procession to and from. So, you might hear cohetes (homemade audio fireworks) and a banda as the procession passes and enters the Church.
January 20 is the San Sebastian Fiesta in upper Ajijic at the corner of M. Castellanos and E. Zapata. You’ll see the mural of this fiesta on the tiendita at the corner there. There is an early morning breakfast and procession to the little Chapel at the plaza for a special Mass, then the procession returns with people carrying the statue of San Sebastian which is placed on a specially decorated altar at the corner for the rest of the day for the following festivities. Later, around 1pm, there will be traditional fiesta food – mole chicken, rice, and beans, and beverages, and lots of good cheer.
The procession back to the church starts up around 4pm complete with wild and wacky Zayacos, a preview of Carnaval festivities. A banda will play, and, if we are lucky, there is usually an Azteca Danzante group as well. Fiesta food and bread is carried to the Chapel to be blessed. The whole crowd proceeds down Calle Zapata to Javier Mina, turning south and crossing the carretera while making the traffic stop (I love that part!), and heads to the plaza and chapel on Guadalupe Victoria with Zayacos dancing merrily all the way.
The Danzantes will dance in front of the Chapel while the banda enters to play hymns, highly amplified by the generous church acoustics. It is a true sound healing experience of intense jubilant good cheer! People carry flowers to the altar and the statue of San Sebastian is placed back in his regular spot. The good ladies of the barrio who put this all together will sing a few of their own original songs commemorating this event.
The crowd then proceeds back to the home corner where there will be a Cascarone mock battle – Cascarones being the decorated eggshells filled with confetti which are playfully utilized at fiestas and weekends. The fun continues into the night with a banda and dancing, delicious ponche de guayaba, and, of course, cohetes until about 11.
There will be a fund-raising street party at the above location, possibly on Jan. 12 – although the date is not confirmed at the time of this writing. If you only want to attend the fiesta, please leave a donation at the corner tienda mentioned above. 50 pesos per person is nice. All expenses are paid for by the people of the neighborhood.
Feb. 2 is Dia de Candelaria, celebrated with a special Mass and family parties. Feb. 6 is Dia de la Constitucion, which is a legal holiday, but there are no special parades or fiestas. Valentine’s Day is celebrated here much as it is up north – a romantic day for lovers with gifts of chocolates and flowers, etc.
Mardi Gras is called Carnaval in Spanish- speaking countries. It falls this year on Tuesday, Feb. 12. In True Mexican Tradition, there are a few weekends of “Pre-Carnaval” parades and festivities, usually the 3 or 4 Sundays before Carnaval, which takes us back into January. In 2012, most of these events were rained out, but, hopefully we’ll have better weather this year
The Zayacos, who play a big part in both the San Sebastian and Carnaval fiestas, stem from a pre-hispanic tradition that evolved after the arrival of the Spaniards. The men dress up in women's clothes for the purpose of making fun of what the natives considered pretentious Euro style clothing. The women were busy with their babies and kids, so men played their parts, as happened during the Shakespearean era as well
The Zayacos utilize their creative flair by making their own masks. Blonde and red wigs seem to dominate. Their dresses are stuffed with balloons and/or inflatable balls to fill out the feminine, ahem, curves, to a most humorous effect, bouncing around when they dance. Half of the Zayacos dress as old men with long beards to partner the Zayacas when dancing. Don't kid yourselves, these are Real Men - they even mend their dresses with duct tape!
All the Zayacos and Zayacas carry shoulder bags filled with flour and confetti, which they fling at the kids who taunt them in a spirit of more humorous mock fights.
The pre-Carnaval parades are as much fun as the Big One, having all the elements – bandas, kids, Zayacos, flour fights, and cowboys – everything except the floats. The pre-Carnaval parades start around 11pm. There will also be Charro (cowboy) Association events in the afternoons after the parades, featuring excellent Norteno style musical groups in the plaza. Norteno music is similar to “Tex-Mex” country. Stick around to hear some cool music and dance!
Without the floats, the pre-Carnaval parades have a slightly different route, starting at the usual parade point at the east end of Constitucion, heading west to Galeana, up to Guadalupe Victoria, then west through the plaza, down to Hidalgo and 6 Corners where it loops around and comes all the way back down Ocampo and Constitucion to the Lienzo Charro on Revolucion, where the cowboys, kids, and Zayacos mix it up while the banda plays. Then, total pandemonium breaks loose! Don’t miss it!
After 3 or weeks of all the above, the Big Day finally arrives. In keeping with the family values of a small Mexican town, Carnaval here is all about the kids, who put on a great show for the adults with their funny flour fights with the Zayacos. Naturally, the floats are wild and wacky, and the parade follows the usual route – Constitucion to Ocampo to 6 Corners, looping around back to the Ajijic Plaza, where the fun continues through the afternoon with a Zayaco dance contest and lots more merry-making.
In a Catholic culture, the time between Ash Wednesday (the day after Carnaval) and Easter is a more solemn and quite time of reflection and prayer, known as Lent, which leads up to Holy Week, or Semana Santa. The San Andres church puts on a notable production of the Passion Play, which commemorates the events leading up to the Crucifixion of Jesus, each year. The actors who portray Jesus, his followers, the Romans, and other Biblical characters, will be rehearsing for this event during this time. Please have respect for this season.
Holy Week starts Sunday, March 24, Palm Sunday, with a small preview of the Passion Play as the scene of Jesus riding the donkey into town will be re-enacted with a large procession between 6 Corners and the San Andres church, past the plaza at 6:30pm. The street will be strewn with alfalfa (rather than palm fronds) and bougainvillea petals to honor the coming of Jesus. Please respect the tradition and do not walk on these special devotional decorations.
That day will also feature a fund-raising food fiesta in the plaza where you can buy unique fiesta foods, including the wonderful ponche de guayaba, and have a lovely, early dinner in the plaza before the lovely outdoor, sunset Mass at 7pm at the San Andres Church, if you like. There will be seating for around 1000 people.
Thursday evening, March 28, the Passion Playwill feature scenes of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane , staged in upper Ajijic in the hills at the end of Calle Encarnacion Rosas, past the Chinese restaurant. There is no seating, only standing room. The Roman soldiers will come and take the Jesus character away, and a torch-lit procession proceeds down to the chapel in Ajijic for the final scenes that night.
The biggest day of the Passion Play is Good Friday on March 29 at 11am, where there will be a huge crowd at the Church for the final trial of Jesus and the procession leading up to the Crucifixion of Jesus through upper Ajijic to the previous location. (Please note: the location of the Crucifixion scene has been changed in past years – at the time of this writing it is not confirmed). The next 24 hours are a solemn time for observant Christians, which is most of the village, so please respect this tradition.
Saturday night, the 30th, there will be a late Mass and Easter service at 9pm,which features a beautiful Resurrection Scene. At the end of the Mass, there will be pealing church bells, fireworks and celebrating both in the Plaza and at family homes. In True Mexican Tradition, the Big Day is really the night before, like Christmas, and Sunday will be a quiet day of rest for most of the people, many of whom will continue with their vacation break for the next week.
Easter on March 31st begins the exodus of the northern seasonal visitors, as the weather heats up and things calm down, and we full-time residents look forward to the refreshing coolness and tranquility of the upcoming rainy season.
I never fail to be awed by the love, devotion, and creativity put into all these fiestas, which are an essential part of Mexican culture, unseen by most of the foreign visitors. Please come out and enjoy these rich and enjoyable events that are so meaningful on so many levels. The spirit of fun is off the Richter Scale here in Mexico.