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Christmas In Oaxaca 2010

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

I will be spending this Christmas with four lovely couchsurfers who are staying with me and we will all be christmas orphans together. One, a part Lao guy born in Paris who has recently been living in Canada, who will be going to Lao for three years to work on a development project and who has invited me to visit him on my next trip to SEA. He met his travel companion, Fanny, in Canada and who is from Switzerland. Another guy is from Michoacan Mexico and his travel companion, Inge, is Dutch. He is selling his photographs as a way of paying for his travel.

I wrote up this description of Christmas in Oaxaca for them:

Little kids dress up like Jesus and Joseph and march in a procession…usually with their respective church members. These are called Posadas. They stop by various homes asking for posada (shelter) in a ritual song, but are refused by those within who also answer in song. The group is finally received at a home previously agreed upon, where the padrinos ( God-parents ) of the particular posada will receive the pilgrims with song and prayer. Then, coffee and tamales are served for the adults and a piñata filled with fruits and nuts for the children.

Beginning with the ‘calenda’ (the procession in which people march in a procession at night with candles and sing songs…often with an accompanying band…and sometimes on the backs of decorated trucks ) on the 6th of December, the party continues with another calenda on the 10th, announcing the upcoming celebrations of the Virgin of Guadalupe. On the 12th, a festive breakfast is served to all in front of the Guadalupe church.

On the 16th, the nine days of ‘posadas’ begin, as well as the calenda of Oaxaca’s patron saint la Virgin de Soledád (Virgin of Solitude) around the zócalo. This calenda is filled with cultural and religious expressions of the indigenous people from the seven regions of Oaxaca. There is a solemn procession and then the famous and colorful Danza de la Pluma is performed outside the basilica of Soledad.

From the 16th through the 31st, is the ‘breaking of the plates’; eating buñuelos (a classic Christmas dessert) and drinking hot chocolate and then smashing the ceramic plates to the ground. (They are made just for this.) Beside the Cathedral, restaurant, stands serve chocolate and “bunuelos” out of bowls which are then thrown against the sidewalk and smashed. It is said that this has something to do with the ancient Indian custom of destroying all of one’s belongings every 52 years, at the end of a cycle proscribed by the Gods. It is also suggested that this comes from Moctezuma’s habit of never eating from the same plate twice.

The people from the mountains bring down the moss and orchids called “San Miguelitos” for the manger scenes on people’s home altars.

On the 17th, there are fireworks in front of the Soledad Basilica. On the 18th, in the morning, people can have breakfast in the patio of the basilica and listen to indigenous music from around the state.

The Noche de Rabanos (Night of the radishes) is on the evening of December 23rd, when the zocalo becomes the scene of a huge exhibition of figures sculpted from radishes.

The fourth and biggest posada is on December 24th, when groups from all over Oaxaca meet in the zócalo to celebrate the arrival of Christmas night. Prior to arriving at the zócalo, each posada will proceed to the home of the madrina (god-mother) who will provide a statue of the child Jesus for the local parish’s nativity scene. After a joyfully festive parade around the zócalo and through Oaxaca, the community returns to its parish church and prepares to celebrate the ‘Misa de Gallo’ (mass of the rooster), the first worship celebration of the Christmas feast.

The fiesta in Oaxaca, of course, is not limited to the days leading up to the 25th. The twelfth day of Christmas (Jan. 6th) is still celebrated here as the ‘feast of the three kings’. Small gifts (hand-made toys or sweets) are given to children on this day. Families, sharing a meal on this day with compadres, are served a special ring-shaped loaf of bread called a ‘rosca’. Inside the loaf are hidden a few tiny images of the child Jesus. If a person finds one in his slice of rosca he/she is obliged to host yet another fiesta for the final celebration of the Christmas season on February 2nd. Most people just laugh but they don’t really host another fiesta! But on this day, families are supposed to bring an image of Jesus from their home altar along with candles to be blessed at church which they do. This feast has come to be known as calendaria.

The Night of the Petition, “Noche del Pedimento” is an indigenous celebration on Dec. 31st. On a hill near Mitla, near Oaxaca City, this ceremony is acted out at a tiny chapel where a cave represented the entrance to the other world, symbolized by the mouth of the jaguar god. Country people, and many from the city come with small models to petition favors from the gods.

Of course the majority of the people are Catholic, in custom if not always in faith, so people of other faiths or no faith just join in the “cultural” activities.

There are things like this going on constantly all throughout the year (anything for a party) and sometimes I wonder how anybody gets anything done! :))

End Of The PRI in Oaxaca

Saturday, December 4th, 2010

Upside Down World has an article by a local writer summarizing the end of the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party that ruled Mexico for 70 years) in Oaxaca and the inauguration of the new governor.

The writer describes the ceremony on December 1…the beginning of the new administration:

In the afternoon ceremony in the former government palace, Cue introduced his cabinet; indigenous groups offered a symbolic cleansing (which might apply to the building as well, since Cue has declared he will re-open it for Executive business); conch shells called fifteen ethnic groups of Oaxaca to give and receive symbolic batons of office; marches and street parties enlivened Oaxaca City. Rigoberto Menchú attended the event to sign an agreement between Oaxaca and Menchú’s environmental foundation. The Teachers Social Movement and the APPO (Asamblea Popular Pueblo de Oaxaca) mobilized 60,000 teachers who jammed the zócalo. Azael Santiago Chepi, Secretary General of the Education Workers union Section 22 stated: “Ruiz practiced the politics of terror and persecution and will go down in history as an incompetent who refused to hear the people…the teachers union is prepared to work with the new administration on all issues….” Punishment of Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (URO) was demanded, again.

A friend who watched the march arrive in the Zocalo described a crowd that was impossible to walk through. Then by the middle of the afternoon the crowd emptied leaving the Zocalo nearly empty.

However by 5pm, when I arrived, a humongous stage had been erected in front of the cathedral and another different crowd was entertained by a famous Mexican singer and a Columbian (??) band. The Zocalo had been cordoned off on the north side in front of the stage so access was limited to the south end…unless you wanted to maneuver through thousands of people in front of the stage. I sat at one of the few remaining restaurant tables at the end nearest the rear of the stage. I was the only gringo in the zocalo that I could see.

The new Governor spoke about an hour…of course I couldn’t understand much of it. I hope there weren’t too many promises. The fireworks were good. I left about 11pm for the walk back to my apartment…with the music still playing.

This time it was the middle middle class. Not the fancy dressed upper-middle and upper classes…who I assume would have probably been aligned with the PRI. The people have cautious hope in a governor reputed to be honest and with the best intentions. I felt cautious too. We in the north were once excited about a new president too.