La Vida Es Un Carnaval

We returned home from a trip south just in time to enjoy Carnaval 2018!  We avoided the weekend crowds by busying ourselves with after vacation chores like unpacking, laundry, and grocery shopping.  This worked out well for Steve- -as it meant Carnaval shenanigans would happen during the week, when he would be working.  So truthfully, I returned home in time for Carnaval!

Guaymas’ Carnaval celebration is one of the oldest in Mexico, dating back to 1888.  As athumbnail-4 port city, Guaymas was home to many immigrants and visitors from Europe.  A Carnaval, similar to those held in Europe, was their idea.  Participation was for the most part limited to the upper classes.  After the Mexican Revolution, Guaymas embraced Carnaval as its own, and participation opened up to include everyone.  The event always begins on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday and runs until midnight the following Tuesday, or the start of Lent.

A parade is held each afternoon/evening.  (Based on my Guaymas parade experience, it is definitely an evening event.  But it is best to get there in the afternoon just in case it starts at the scheduled afternoon time.)  There are rides on the malecón, concerts, poetry readings, plays, games, lots of good food, and souvenirs to buy.

During the day one celebration a Reina del Carnaval and Rey Feo are crowned.  There is also the “Quema de Mal Humor” (Burning of the Bad Humor).  This year’s honor went to PASA, the city garbage collection agency.  PASA was on strike during the month of December, leaving trash to pile up in the city and its surrounding areas.  In spite of the inconvenience (and smell and eyesore) this caused, many were hoping that Enrique Peña Nieto, Guaymas mayor, Lorenzo DeCima, or Donald Trump had been selected instead.

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Photo credit Sharon Mooney

Some friends and I decided that Carnaval would be the perfect time to try public transportation for the first time.  We knew the main avenue into el Centro would be closed off to traffic for the parade, and parking would be a challenge.  We had been a bit intimidated by the bus previously, certain we would make mistakes or get lost.  We found fellow passengers and the bus drivers to be incredibly helpful.  We were dropped two blocks from where we planned on watching the parade and discovered a new bakery/café on our walk!  And given that I am writing this now, the trip home was equally as successful!

 

The parade was a little delayed, but we filled our time shopping for masks and peoplethumbnail-1
watching.  Several women made cascarones and sold them in packages of five for five pesos.  Children loved breaking them over the heads of their parents.  Actually, they enjoyed breaking them over the heads of anyone nearby!  We were confetti bombed multiple times by the small children (and abuelitas) sitting near us.  We had stocked up ourselves, so we made sure to return the favor.  Nothing brings strangers closer together quite like confetti!

The parade was a marvel of sights and sounds.  Marching and mariachi bands entertained the onlookers.  Loud music blasted from speakers, providing the rhythms for the colorfully costumed dancers.  And the crowd.  The abuelitas loved to dance with the handsome, young parade participants!  The floats were big and bold, a true testament to the time and energy it took to prepare for this event.  Candy, stuffed animals, and confetti were launched from the floats into the crowd.  The crowd gave it right back spraying Silly String and throwing cascarones!  One brave youngster even sprayed a police officer with Silly String as he helped clear the parade route before the show began!

 

After the parade, we walked along the malecón.  Crowds stood in line for roller coasters, spidery spinners, and inflatables.  Children enjoyed crafts and magicians.  The smells of delicious food hung in the air:  pancakes con Nutella o fresas, churros, Cheetos con chamoy, elote, tacos, and hotdogs.  As we sat down to rest a moment on the seawall, one of our group discovered an unopened, ice cold cerveza, seemingly left there just for her.  (This, of course, necessitated a stop in the five peso port a potty before the bus ride home.)

 

It is experiences like this one that make up my very favorite Mexico memories.  (Yes, that even includes paying to use the bathroom and waiting an hour and a half for a parade to start.)  Living here has taught me so much about finding joy in the moment and letting myself be amazed by the little things.  The little things are the big things.  Go ahead!  Break a cascarón over a friend’s head.  You will know exactly what I mean.

The “After” Party

thumbnailIt seems odd to see jack-o-lanterns, spider webs, black cats, and witches’ hats on display in the stores and restaurants throughout Guaymas and San Carlos.  Día de Muertos, is Mexico’s most popular holiday, and I fully expected that it would have more influence in my little town than it seems to.  I have learned, however, that due to Sonora’s proximity to the U.S. border, and greater access to images via television and social media, Halloween has become increasingly popular.  Residents in our state, as well as those in many border states, adopt more American traditions  There are more Halloween costumes and treat bags on sale at the local Walmart than calaveras, Catrinas, and candles.  Día de Muertos is still widely celebrated in the central and southern states of Mexico where there is a greater indigenous presence, and less American influence.

In 2003, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) proclaimed Día de Muertos as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.  Intangible Cultural Heritage refers to traditions that are passed down through the generations via arts, storytelling, performance, and rituals associated with nature and the universe.  I was determined to ignore the Halloween trappings (especially the chocolate) and focus on learning more about and celebrating Día de Muertos.

Hundreds of years ago, the Aztecs celebrated a festival during August in honor of
Mictecacihuatl, a goddess who served as guardian of the dead.  After Spanish colonization and due to the influence of the Catholic Church, ancient religious traditions were combined with Catholic ones.  Today, the festival coincides with All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day.  It is believed that at midnight on October 31 (Día de los Angelitos), the gates of heaven open so that the souls of deceased children come down from above and reunite with their families for a 24 hour period.  At midnight on November 1, the souls of deceased adults  rejoin their loved ones.

Día de Muertos is not a sad, scary time.  The tradition is described beautifully by Christina Preiss when she says, “The first death you die is when you stop breathing, the second when you are buried in the earth, the third is when the last person here forgets you. So this traditions ensures you never die the third death and your family member comes back and is always with you.”  Families remember the best of times and the very best of the people they have lost with bright colors, beautiful flowers, candles, incense, music, and favorite foods, drinks, and toys.  Many families spend the equivalent of more than two month of their salaries on preparations for this holiday, decorating altars and planning celebrations at grave sites.

One of the most recognizable figures in Día de Muertos festivities is La Catrina.thumbnail-17.jpeg  Designed by José Guadalupe Posada in 1910, La Calavera Catrina, became the symbol of the Mexican Revolution and “death” of the privileged class.  Today she represents the idea that everyone is equal in death.   Catrina Parades and/or Festivales de las Calacas are held in many cities and towns throughout Mexico.  By dressing up, participants hope to ward off death, tricking her into believing they are already dead.

And fortunately, in spite of all the Halloween excitement, Guaymas is hosting a Festival de la Calaca this coming weekend!  I will continue with this same theme in my next article, sharing information about the elaborate atlars and gravesite visits.  But for now, I need to add the finishing touches to my Catrina costume!