El Maratón Guadalupe Reyes: Leave Your Running Shoes at Home

IMG_5219Living in San Carlos, Mexico is in many ways like peeling an onion.  I do not mean that I cry a lot.  Quite the opposite, actually.  With each new layer, something I did not know before is revealed.  I was always a big fan of those “aha moments” in my classroom.  How genuinely lucky I am to have them now myself, almost daily.  And while not everything I learn is mind blowing, life changing, or save the world important, this life long learner appreciates each and every opportunity to experience something new about Mexico, its people, and their culture.

For example, last week marked the beginning of El Maratón Guadalupe Reyes.  What?!  Is this a race?  A shopping event?  Another celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe?  It just so happens that it is even better than all of those things.  Guadalupe Reyes marks the time period between the Feast Day de La Virgin de Guadalupe on December 12 and El Día de los Tres Reyes on January 6.  Basically, a month long party of never ending special days!  How did I miss this last year?!  I am so excited to know about it now!

Guadalupe Reyes reminds me of the time period in the U.S.A. between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  More than time spent getting ready for one big celebration on Christmas morning, however, Guadalupe Reyes is about getting together with friends and family for food filled parties, one after another, every day!

Here in Guaymas, the word posada is used to describe any Christmas celebration. IMG_0373
Between December 13-15, my husband attended four Posadas!  Many of his friends made it to even more than that!  El Maratón had officially begun.  Steve enjoyed special Christmas tamales, beans, stews, and sweets at each Posada that he has attended.  A typical Christmas tamal made in Guaymas includes shredded beef, potatoes, onions, chilis, and one green olive.  I may not have attended a Posada, but I am certainly enjoying my share of tamales thanks to all of Steve’s leftovers.  There are many jokes made this time of year about the amount of weight gained during Guadalupe Reyes.  Maybe I am fortunate to have a smaller social circle!

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Further south in Mexico, Posadas will be held nightly from December 16-December 24.  These are more religious in nature.  These nine days of celebration are called the “novena” and signify the nine months that Mary was pregnant with Jesus.  The word posada means “lodging” or “inn”.  The celebrations begin with a procession, led by a couple dressed as Mary and Joseph, through neighborhoods and communities.  Participants carry lighted candles and sing as they weave their way through the streets.  The procession stops at prearranged homes or “posadas”.  A song is sung asking the owner for lodging.  Several times each evening the procession is told “No, there is no room”.   Finally, the group is accepted into a home.  After a prayer around the nativity, a celebration with music, food, sweets, Christmas punch and hot chocolate begins.  There is always a piñata for the children.  The traditional piñata is star-shaped.  The star has seven points, each one representing one of the seven deadly sins.

IMG_0400Piñatas are popular at Christmas time no matter where you live in Mexico.  And truthfully, it does not matter how old you are either.  Steve’s company hosts a Posada for all of its employees each year.  There is always a piñata.  And there are always at least 500+ adults diving onto the floor grabbing candy once it breaks!

Enjoy your special holiday time and traditions with friends and family.  Keep Calm and Guadalupe Reyes, amigos!

Christmas Spirit on Parade

thumbnailI had been bouncing off of the walls all week!  A friend shared with me that there was a Desfile Navideño, a Christmas Parade, happening in Guaymas Friday night.  Unfortunately, she shared this on Tuesday, so I had almost the entire week to wait.  In the meantime, I also learned there would be a Christmas tree lighting on the malecón after the parade.  Suffice to say, come Friday night I was a bundle of energetic glee!  I was ready to burst.  Steve was being a very good sport.

The parade was scheduled to start at 4:30 pm, so Santa hats in tow, I picked Steve up from work about 3:45.  Navigating Guaymas on ordinary days can still be a struggle for us, so we wanted to give ourselves plenty of time to get lost and found if needed.  As the main avenue into El Centro was already closed to traffic coming into Guaymas from our direction, the challenge was definitely on!  The way Steve and I navigated the detour (without the benefit of detour signs) was nothing short of a miracle.  As far as I was concerned, the night was already a success based on this accomplishment alone.

thumbnail-4We found a parking spot and were seated on the curb with time to spare.  It was then I discovered that Steve “forgot” his Santa hat.  Unbeknown to us at the time, we could have easily made it to the truck and back (and eaten dinner and finished our Christmas shopping) before the parade actually began.  Because that 4:30 parade did not start until 7:00!

It seemed there was a leak somewhere in the traffic blockade because the cars kept coming.  And most of the cars were full of costumed children, um parade participants, heading to the starting point long after the scheduled starting time.  The Spanish phrase “ni modo” (oh well) was definitely applicable here.  The wait did not dampen the excitement, as children played with light up toys, chased down balloon venders, and enjoyed churros y Cheetos con chamoy, jamoncillo, banderillas, papas, manzanas, gomas, paletas, and dulce de algodón. It was a pre-Christmas Parade Food Parade!

Finally, it was time!  We were entertained by a marching band, baton twirlers, floats, elves on stilts, and lots of twinkling lights.   Santa appeared for the first time in our section around 7:30.  Literally every single child and his parents ran into the street to get a picture with Santa.  We thought the parade had ended several times because there were these huge lulls in the action.  Only after witnessing the Santa picture frenzy, did we realize that this was the reason for the hold up.  Because it happened every time there was a Santa, and there were a lot of Santas!

Pickup trucks hauling generators for light and music shows preceded the performing school groups. Students wore adorable Christmas themed outfits and danced to hip hop Christmas songs, like “Yes, everybody knows (ra-pa-pum-pum)  We will take off our clothes (ra-pa-pum-pum)  Light you up, put you on top  Let’s fa la la la la, la la la la (let’s go)!”  I am still processing the sweet angels, reindeers, and elves performing to this.  And to be honest, I am still laughing about it too.

Once the parade officially ended, Steve and I headed to the malecón for the tree lighting.  thumbnailOur first stop was a hot dog vender.  The snack we bought to enjoy during the wait, er, parade had long worn off, and we were starving.  We just had time to scarf those down before the countdown began.  I am guessing that even the event organizers were exhausted by this point and wanted to move things along.

After the tree was lit, fireworks exploded over the Sea of Cortez.  It was incredible!  I may have had a little tear in my eye- -either from excitement or the fact that my butt was still numb from sitting so long at the parade.  The last ash had not even touched the ground, and Steve was turning away to head for the truck.  His “ni modo” had got up and gone!

And I heard him exclaim as we drove out of sight, “Please, dear God, I hope she invites a friend to go with her next year.”

A Festival for the Living on The Day of the Dead

I had been looking forward to Saturday all week—maybe all month even.  October 28 was the opening day of the Festival de la Calaca in Guaymas.  My relationship with festivals in Guaymas has been spotty at best, leaving me feeling a bit underwhelmed most of the time.  The Posada last December was mostly a raffle for bicycles.  And a free hot dog.  El Día de los Tres Reyes Magos involved standing in line for a piece of Rosca de Reyes, or King Cake.  My son was so disappointed by both events, he told me that I was on my own from here on out.  No worries.  I rallied a new group of festival goers, who had no idea of past fails.

thumbnail-2The festival was organized by Casa de Cultura, a government sponsored organization that promotes Mexican Arts and Culture.  In the week leading up to the  celebration, the center sponsored several workshops including the art of paper flower making, skull painting, and traditional Catrina make-up.  I surprised myself by  stepping outside of my comfort zone, attending the workshop on make-up- -ALONE!  The workshop was well crowded, and I quickly made a new friend.  I call her a friend because I believe that once you have used your fingers to apply white paint to a stranger’s face and lips, a certain level of intimacy has been achieved.

Props to both Steve and Brad, who did not bat an eye, upon seeing Patty and me in our
Catrina makeup on Saturday afternoon.  We both got a “you look great” and then “I’m going to try and pretend there is nothing weird about this”.  Small children, however, were fascinated by the two gringas in face paint.  We got a lot of stares (okay, I am assuming it was fascination here), shy smiles, tentative waves, and whispered “holas”.

Our first stop was Plaza 13 de Julio.  Colorful papel picado was strung from the thumbnail-1thumbnail-1thumbnail
lampposts above us.  Floral wreaths hung on the posts and the center kiosk as well.  Venders sold tamales, Cheetos and chamoy, totopos, raspados, aqua de jamaica and horchata.  There were carts full of children’s toys, jewelry, paintings, instruments, and crafts for sale.  There were balloons and blow-up toys on sticks.  They were so bright and colorful, I was looking for any excuse to buy one.  A band played lively music.  Catrinas, standing 12 feet tall, overlooked the festivities from their corner posts.

We then headed over to Plaza de la Pistola where the ofrendas were displayed.  Most were sponsored by universities and high schools and honored important  Mexicans of the past and present like Cantiflas, Nezahualcoyoti, and La Cruz Roja.    I nearly cried at the ofrenda of a young boy; it included special touches like his school books and favorite snacks.   I wondered if he had been a student at the school that designed his altar.  There were incredible sawdust carpets in front of many of the altars, some of which look longer than a week to make.  These lead the soul to the ofrenda and help minimize the contact it makes with the earth.

We walked over to the parade route.  It was scheduled to begin at 6:00 pm.  With our bags of churros in hand, we found a seat on the curb and waited.  And waited. And waited a little more.  Cars kept coming down the parade route.  We weren’t entirely sure how road closures for events like this were handled in guaymas.  We could see the lights of the lead police vehicle and hear the band, but still the cars kept coming.  The sidewalks were IMG_4580lined with people on both sides.  No one seemed to mind the delay.  They visited with one another and enjoyed treats like paletas, algodón de azúcar, and chamoy apples.

Finally, at 6:45 we caught our first glimpse of the parade.  There were two marching bands, baton twirlers, dance troupes, and floats- -that were pushed by hand!  Parents walked alongside the parade, keeping watchful eyes on their children who were participating and/or directing them back into proper position.  Yaqui Deer Dancer Catrinas threw candy to children along the route.  Everyone clapped in time to the music and even sang along when the band played Despacito!  There was a long line of cars (those that had apparently just missed the ambiguous cutoff time) crawling behind the parade down Avenida Serdán.

thumbnail-6After the parade, we headed back to the Plaza for one last loop.  Things were really happening now.  Colorful lights blinked on and off.  The music was louder, as was the crowd.  A movie screen featured children’s cartoons starring Catrinas.  There were arts and crafts for the kiddos.  People were lining up to have their faces painted. Candles had been lit at each of the altars.  Everyone was eating or drinking something yummy!

This was not a festival of death.  This was a festival of life.   Thethumbnail serious business will take place Tuesday and Wednesday nights in homes across the city.  This night was about embracing the living and discovering joy in spite of the sadness.  Casa de Cultura created a marvelous spectacle for all and taught us something about one of Mexico’s most important cultural traditions at the same time.  I am certain that even Caleb would have loved it!

 

 

Offerings of Love

Who does not love a good festival?  Great food, music, displays, and handicrafts…  They offer a little something for everyone and a lot of opportunity to learn more about local customs and traditions.  And while many towns and cities throughout Mexico are finalizing months worth of plans for community Día de Muertos celebrations, the most important and meaningful of these preparations take place at home.

It is believed that at midnight on October 31, and again, on November 1, the gates of heaven open for a 24 hour period.  At this time, the souls of the departed may return to visit with their loved ones here earth.  There is a belief that the dead provide their families protection, good luck, and wisdom from beyond the grave.  Therefore, souls are welcomed home in grand fashion.  Families erect altars in honor of the deceased.  These altars are not shrines, rather, they are ofrendas, or offerings, designed to lead the spirits home.

There is rich symbolism in each of the items included in the ofrenda.  These vary regionally, depending on the local customs, traditions, and/or the availability of special foods, drinks, and flowers.  Cost even factors in; some families may spend two month’s worth of earnings!

Ofrendas  have two, three, or seven levels, representing earth, heaven, purgatory, and/or the steps necessary to reach

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Ofrenda welcoming the soul of Buz, by his wife, Patty
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The ofrenda displayed in my home

heaven.  Photographs of the deceased are prominently featured.  Flowers, whose strong scents and bright colors are believed to guide the way, are arranged on the ofrendas.  Some people, use petals from the flowers to create pathways from the door to the altar, extra insurance that loved ones do not lose their way.    Baby’s Breath is often used on altars of children; symbolizing innocence and purity.  Cempasuchil, orange marigolds, are another popular choice.   These flowers are native to Mexico and were used by the Aztecs during funeral ceremonies.  Other popular flowers include cockscombs, hoary stock, chrysanthemums, and gladiolas.  Copal incense is burned, providing another sweet fragrance, and candles illuminate the way.

Papel picado, or chiseled paper, is a folk art that originated in the town of Puebla.  Artists used papel de China (tissue paper) to create paper ornaments, lamp shades, and other artworks.  By the 1920’s, artisans were displaying and distributing paper flags they made by “chiseling” designs on the tissue paper.  Papel picado is used for numerous special occasions today, including Día de Muertos.  Ofrendas include papel picado flags decorated with Catrinas, skeletons, and other religious icons.

 

Families often include water (to quench the thirst of the soul after its long journey), salt (it acts as a purifier), personal items of the deceased (tools, books, cigarettes), crosses, statues of La Virgin de Guadalupe and other patron saints, and decorations like incense burners, figurines of skeletons or skulls, and candy skulls made of sugar or chocolate.  These items personalize the altar for the person being remembered and help each soul feel welcomed and calm.

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Ofrenda in honor of Frida Kahlo, designed by students at Secundaria de La Manga

In the early evening hours, preceding the midnight return, foods (served only on very special occasions due to cost) and drinks are added to the offrendas.  Turkey with mole sauce, tamales, tortillas, hot chocolate, tequila, fruits, and pan de muerto, a sweet bread baked as an offering to the dead, are arranged on the altars.  The soul’s journey from heaven is long, and the food and drink provide nourishment upon its arrival.  After the soul has enjoyed the “essence” of the meal, family members share the treats.  Sometimes entire communities come together to share and celebrate together.

November 2 is spent at the cemetery.  The majority in Mexico are public, meaning there are no caretakers to maintain the grounds and keep the areas tidy.  Families gather to clean the gravesite by pulling weeds, planting flowers, and cutting back grasses.  After the hard work is over, they enjoy a picnic style meal together, often to the music of mariachi bands.

Cemeteries and death are not seen as scary, dark, or creepy.  The bright colors, loud music, pleasing smells, and delicious food evoke feelings of happiness, love and togetherness.  Día de Muertos is my very favorite of all Mexican celebrations for this reason.  I can not help but be filled with excitement over the idea of a bonus visit from my grandparents and father-in-law.

And in true “teacher fashion” I have gone on much too long.  Surely, it is time for “recess”.  Or a shot of that tequila sitting on the altar!