Thursday, October 9, 2014

Huejotzingo´s Calendar

afternoon clouds gathering near the end of the rainy season
Huejotzingo has two seasons: wet and dry.  The rainy season is my favorite, although it can be inconvenient at times.  During the five or so months of the wet season, vacant lots transform to picturesque and flower-filled.  Graffiti and trash are hidden by lush vegetation, and the air smells fresh.  Both nearby volcanoes often wear a generous covering of snow.  In contrast, as the dry season wears on, vegetation dies, and dust begins to permeate the air.  Skin cracks and itches and touching metal often results in static shocks.  Trash and graffiti once more become visible.

Aside from the climatic calendar, Huejotzingo has a repetitive religious and social calendar.  The last week of September and into the first days of October, the town celebrates its patron, the Archangel Michael.  A statue of the angel is first taken to one church, amid firing of thousands of fireworks.  The sponsors of the celebration spend multiple thousands of pesos to supply all that is involved in the festivities, including feeding all the guests that arrive during the days that the statue is in the area.  On September 28th, the statue is paraded throughout Huejotzingo with great ceremony and more explosion of fireworks.  It is taken to the main cathedral in preparation for the actual day of St. Michael, September 29th.

at a toy booth in the fair
During the two weeks of the observance, the main square (zocalo) converts into a fair ground with rides, vendors of toys and food, and games.  Each night, the zocalo fills with lights, crowds, and loud music.  Sporadic bursts of fireworks add to the general noise.  The very day after the festival of St. Michael ends, the fair disappears, and the zocalo returns to normal.

offerings on an altar for the dead
Next on the religious calendar comes the week of the Days of the Dead.  The first day is October 26 and the last is All Saints´ Day on November 2.  As the days pass, Huejotzingo residents set up altars and lay out paths of marigold petals leading to their doors so that the spirits of dead relatives will return to the house and partake of the offerings on the altars.

Aside from the occasional party for first communions, confirmations, third or fifteenth birthdays, or first-year anniversaries of the death of a family member, there is a lull in the activities until near Dec. 12th.  Beginning early December, pilgrims from all over the country head to Mexico City to the Basilica of Guadalupe.  They start to pass by on the major roads.  Some walk, others ride bicycles, and still others caravan in cars and trucks.  The 12th is the most important day, the day of Guadalupe when thousands crowd the Basilica with their icons and images and participate in the services.

Approaching Christmas, there are posadas when groups of people walk the streets in the early evening, carrying their niño dios dolls and visiting various houses where they receive refreshments or small bags of candies and peanuts.  They sing to the dolls and pass them around to the people in the houses to kiss the image´s feet.  Most families have a special meal late Christmas Eve.

Día de los Reyes (three kings´ day), January 6, is when younger children receive gifts, supposedly from the three kings.  On the days leading up to Jan. 6, the children write letters asking for the gifts they want, and then they usually send the letters tied to helium balloons.

Depending on when Easter is, the next big event in Huejotzingo is the carnival in February or March.  For four days, the town is converted into an enormous theater where costumed men, women, and children reenact different battles from Huejotzingo and Puebla´s history.  Officially, the action only takes place in or near the zocalo between the hours of 10 and 4, but unfortunately many participants use the carnival as an excuse to become and remain drunk for four days.  They gather in groups throughout all of Huejotzingo, dancing, drinking, partying, and firing their muskets for hours.

When Lent starts, all carnival spirit vanishes, and daily services begin at different altars set up in various locations in Huejotzingo.  Families host altars for several days, setting up huge tents, broadcasting music and services, and providing food for all who attend.  There are several processions that progess down the highly decorated streets, moving images from one location to another.

Without much, if any, lapse, once the Easter season ends, the month of May is devoted to daily rosary services for Mary.  June is devoted to services for Joseph.  July and August have no special distinction.  September rolls around and Independence Day receives some attention before once more the festivities start for St. Michael, and so the cycle continues year after year.

Our prayer is to end the cycle.  Certainly there are aspects of the celebrations that are harmless, but so much of what is celebrated throughout the year is devoted to something other than God.  Most of the observance is directed to images or spirits, and the majority of the people believe that they should not or cannot approach God directly.  Please join us in praying that this deep-rooted idea will be exposed as a lie.