Edible Valentine Type: Besos

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I created a Valentine feast for my family in Slovenia two years ago – a series of typographic cookies inspired by my research on Mexican pan dulce (‘sweet bread’), published on my main blog under ‘MEXICO Project‘, which proved to be extremely well-visited from all over the world [see the article]. The idea was based on a particular variety of pan dulce, called besos (‘kisses’), which are especially popular in Mexico for Día de San Valentin (‘Valentine’s Day’), or more commonly known as Día del Amor y la Amistad (‘Day of Love and Friendship’). The idea was then further expanded into a typographical feast in 5 languages (English, Spanish, Slovene, Italian, German) using the words ‘love’ and ‘kisses’ as the basis for the project [see the article].

A typographic Valentine feast in 5 languages / © Andreja Brulc

A typographic Valentine feast in 5 languages / © Andreja Brulc

Description: Besos

According to Joseluis Flores – the Mexican-American Pastry Chef of the award-winning restaurants Deseo (Scottsdale) and Douglas Rodriguez Cuba (Miami) – who includes the besos recipe in his excellent book Dulce: Desserts in the Latin-American Tradition:

Besos have become one of my favourite Mexican breads and are a fun recipe to make with my children. [Flores, 2010: 66]

A beso, as described by Flores, is made of two round domes, almost scorn-like breads, ‘kissing’ each other through a thin layer of jam – strawberry, apricot, raspberry or pineapple or flavour of your preference – sandwiched in between and coated with butter and granulated sugar. Although besos are popular on holidays such as Valentine’s Day, they are also eaten, like other pan dulce, at breakfast or as an afternoon snack. Besos have been cited in print since at least the 1930s [Popik, in The Big Apple].

Besos ('kisses'), a typographic Valentine feast with pan dulce / © Andreja Brulc

Besos (‘kisses’), a typographic Valentine feast with pan dulce / © Andreja Brulc

Recipe: Besos

1. Measurement Systems

I borrowed, and slightly adapted, the recipe from Joseluis Flores’ book, but since the book was published in the USA, the recipe uses USA cups – the American method for measuring liquid or dry ingredients. Conversions to grams – the metric unit system used nowadays in the UK (although imperial units are still to be found) and Europe, as well as other parts of the world (which were not part of British Empire) – are listed on the side. Generally speaking, if grams are not used, I use GoodtoKnow for conversions. Be aware – if you are a user of the metric unit system – that the American method is, indeed, very complex, as conversions to grams for liquids produce different results to those for dry ingredients, so below calculations are not my mistakes!

Furthermore, I converted tablespoons and teaspoons into grams if dry ingredients (dry yeast, baking powder) are used, and into millilitres if liquids (vanilla extract). These measurements are commonly understood in the UK as these measuring utensils are part of every kitchen that loves home baking, but they are, nonetheless, confusing for other users! Of course, to make things even worse, US tablespoons and teaspoons are slightly less than those in the UK when converted to grams or millilitres (e.g. 1 US tablespoon = 13 g / 13 ml, while 1 metric tablespoon = 13.19 g / 13.18 ml)! I use Aqua-Calc, as it does allow you to convert both USA and metric table-and-tea-spoon measurements. I find Cafe Fernando as a source for conversion tables also very useful.

2. Ingredients

The recipe makes about 30 pieces of ‘dome’ breads or 15 ‘sandwich’ besos (NOTE: the size of besos depends on the size of your ice-cream scoop for shaping the breads as mine produced 24 pieces or 12 besos based on the ingredients below)

For the ‘dome’ breads:

• 170 g (3/4 cup) butter, softened but still firm
• 150 g (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
• 3 eggs
• 570 g (4 cups) all-purpose flour
• 8 g (2 teaspoons) active dry yeast
• 20.7 g (1 1/2 tablespoons) baking powder
• 26 ml (2 tablespoons) vanilla extract

For the filling and coating:

• 360 ml (1 1/2 cups) marmalade or jam (raspberry or flavour of your choice)
• 225 g (1 cup) butter, melted (for coating)
• 400 g (2 cups) granulated sugar (for coating)

3. Instructions

• In a bowl, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy and pale yellow with an electric mixer. Then add the eggs one at a time, mixing until all combined.

• In a larger bowl, combine the flour, yeast, and baking powder. Add the flour mixture, approximately 236 ml (1 cup) of water, and the vanilla extract, to the butter and sugar mixture and mix on low-speed until combined. Then mix on medium speed until the dough becomes smooth and soft, with a thick, batter-like texture, for *15–20 mins. (*NOTE: I did the mixing for 5 mins taking the advice of Tennie Cakes).

• Using an ice cream scoop (*2-ounce ice cream scoop or a 1/4 cup measuring cup), scoop half spheres of dough at least 5 cm (2 inches) apart onto a non-stick baking sheet or line the baking sheet with parchment paper. (*NOTE: The measurement of the scoop comes to approximately 55 g, but the one I used, available in my mum’s kitchen drawer, seems larger as, already mentioned above, I only got 24 pieces instead of 30).

• Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F or Gas Mark 4). Bake for *15–20 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool completely on a rack. (*NOTE: Your time will vary depending on how large your ice cream scoop is, i.e. your dough ‘domes’. As a rule of thumb, I would set the timer at 15 mins and then, after 15 mins, decide whether further cooking is needed, once the non-pointed tip of the knife is stuck in one of them. As my preference is that they are not over-cooked, as they still cook (harden) a bit after being taken out of oven, like biscuits, I would keep an eye on from 15 min onwards. Just make sure that they are lighter as opposed to darker golden brown).

• Spread the bottom piece of dome with about *1 tablespoon of marmalade or jam, then top it with another piece. Repeat until you assembled all pieces into besos. Coat the assembled besos with softened butter using a pastry brush or your fingers, then roll each in sugar, tapping off the excess. Store in an airtight container. (*NOTE: Use your own judgement – if your marmalade or jam is thick, then obviously the filling won’t run out of the beso. Some people prefer more filling to bread, some more bread to filling).

Bibliography

  1. Flores, Joseluis. Dulce: Desserts in the Latin-American Tradition. New York: Rizzoli, 2010: 66.
  2. Popik, Barry. “Besos: Mexican pastry – kisses.” The Big Apple, 23 Jan 2008. Article [Accessed 5 Feb 2017].

3–5 Feb: Festival de la Ballena Gris (‘Gray Whale Festival’)

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INFO

• 3–5 Feb (varies): Festival de la Ballena Gris (‘Gray Whale Festival’) – An annual festival at a small fishing port of Adolfo López Mateos – also other places like Puerto San Carlos – located in Bahía Magdalena (‘Magdalena Bay’) (State of Baja California Sur) (Link ‘Gray Whale Watching in Baja’). The festival includes various cultural events and ecotourism activities, but its speciality are whale watching tours. However, these expeditions also take place outside the timescale of the festival – as the peak season for whale watching is between January and early April.

Children's hands caressing and touching a mother gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) and calf resting for milking, 5 Feb 2015, Adolfo López Mateos, Bahía Magdalena, Baja California Sur, Mexico / © Andrea Izzotti @ 123rf (ID 55335618)

Children’s hands caressing and touching a mother gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) and calf resting for milking, 5 Feb 2015, Adolfo López Mateos, Bahía Magdalena, Baja California Sur, Mexico / © Andrea Izzotti @ 123rf (ID 55335618)

Phenomenon: A Seasonal Migration of Gray Whale

Each year Mexico is the host of one of the most fascinating seasonal migratory phenomena – the gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus), also known as Pacific or California gray whale [for a full description, see NOAA Fisheries, Wild Whales, or The IUCN Red List]. The species is a large marine mammal that is part of the baleen whale suborder and belongs to the cetacean family, which also includes dolphins and porpoises.

Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) trapped in the ice – a joint American-Russian effort ultimately saved 2 out of 3 trapped whales, Bering Sea, Alaska / NOAA: NOAA's Ark – Animal Collection (ID theb3673)

Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) trapped in the ice – a joint American-Russian effort ultimately saved 2 out of 3 trapped whales, Bering Sea, Alaska / NOAA: NOAA’s Ark – Animal Collection (ID theb3673)

Each October, a group of once endangered eastern Pacific population of gray whales start a two-to-three month-long journey (8000–11000 km or 5000–6800 mi) from summer feeding grounds of the cold and frozen Siberian and Alaskan waters of the Bering and Beaufort Seas, along the western coast of the Pacific Ocean, to winter breeding grounds – the warm and shallow lagoons and bays of Baja California Sur. Although larger aggregations may be seen in feeding and breeding grounds, the gray whale is a solitary marine mammal. It travels alone (or in pairs of mothers and calves, or even in small unstable groups) day and night – approx. 120 km (75 mi) per day at an average speed of 8 km/h (5 mi/h) [NOAA Fisheries].

The round trip (approx. 16000 km or 10000 mi) of the gray whale is believed to be the longest annual migration of any mammal.

Aerial view of a gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) / NOAA: NOAA's Ark – Animals Collection (ID anim0845)

Aerial view of a gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) / NOAA: NOAA’s Ark – Animals Collection (ID anim0845)

Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus), Laguna Ojo de Liebre, Baja California Sur, Mexico / NOAA: NOAA's Ark – Animal Collection (ID anim0846)

Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus), Laguna Ojo de Liebre, Baja California Sur, Mexico / NOAA: NOAA’s Ark – Animal Collection (ID anim0846)

Bahía Magdalena: Winter Breeding Grounds

Bahía Magdalena – a 50km-long bay, protected by the white sandy barrier islands of Magdalena and Santa Margarita – is one of the three most popular winter breeding grounds. The other two – Laguna Ojo de Liebre (formerly known as ‘Scammon’s Lagoon’) and Laguna San Ignacio – are the most undeveloped nursery and breeding grounds in the world for the species, and are part of UNESCO World Heritage Site, namely The Whale Sanctuary of El Vizcaíno – a complex mosaic of wetlands, marshes, halophytes, dunes and desert habitats, as well as mangroves in the transition areas. The two lagoons are embedded in the much larger El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve, Mexico’s largest protected area as well as the largest wildlife refuge in Latin America.

Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) blowing water, Bahía Magdalena, Baja California Sur, Mexico / © Sheldon So @ 123rf (ID 21089042)

Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) blowing water, Bahía Magdalena, Baja California Sur, Mexico / © Sheldon So @ 123rf (ID 21089042)

All three places are sanctuaries providing perfect environmental conditions for winter breeding grounds, where gray whales are able to fulfill their biological cycle from the end of December to early April. After 12–13 months of gestation (a period of pregnancy, typically, for mammals), the first gray whales to arrive (mid-December to early January) are pregnant females, who give birth to a single calf in warm and shallow waters. They raise their calves for 2–3 months, and, if they are lucky, get pregnant again. These calves reach sexual maturity when 8 years old. Single females also arrive with these pregnant ones. By mid-February to mid-March, the bulk of the population has arrived in the lagoons, filling them with nursing, calving and mating gray whales.

A historical photo of a pair of gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) rolling and roiling at the surface preparatory to mating, with yacht Grayling in background, Laguna Ojo de Liebre, Baja California Sur, Mexico / Dr Raymond W Gilmore @ NOAA: NOAA's Historic Fisheries Collection (ID fish5334)

A historical photo of a pair of gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) rolling and roiling at the surface preparatory to mating, with yacht Grayling in background, Laguna Ojo de Liebre, Baja California Sur, Mexico / Dr Raymond W Gilmore @ NOAA: NOAA’s Historic Fisheries Collection (ID fish5334)

A mother gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) / Dr Steven Swartz @ NOAA: NOAA's Ark – Animal Collection (ID anim1725)

A mother gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) / Dr Steven Swartz @ NOAA: NOAA’s Ark – Animal Collection (ID anim1725)

Throughout February and March, the first to leave the lagoons are males and females without new calves. Pregnant females and nursing mothers with their newborns are the last to depart, leaving only when their calves are ready for the journey back to their summer feeding grounds – usually from late March to mid-April. Often, a few mothers linger with their young calves well into May.

A mother gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) spyhooping and its calf approach tourists, Baja California Sur, Mexico / José Eugenio Gómez Rodríguez @ Wikipedia

A mother gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) with its calf spyhooping, as being approach by tourists, Baja California Sur, Mexico / José Eugenio Gómez Rodríguez @ Wikipedia

Activity: Whale watching

Whale watching expeditions provide eco tourists, including those travelling with children, as well as marine mammal enthusiasts with the opportunity to see and appreciate groups of gray whales as they migrate, as well as offer them up close encounters with the species in its natural environment.

Whale watching on a boat with children attracting the attention of a gray whale, Laguna San Ignacio, Baja California Sur, Mexico / Jorge Peon @ Wikipedia

Whale watching on a boat with children attracting the attention of a gray whale, Laguna San Ignacio, Baja California Sur, Mexico / Jorge Peon @ Wikipedia

According to the law, these expeditions need to be led by an authorised guide as tourism in the past caused a threat to the existence of gray whales. Official guides, therefore, must pass a course in protection and observation of the species, while vessels must also pass a passenger safety inspection [Thomas, in Baja Insider]. It must be observed that ecotourism and whale watching cannot be an exception to current threats – i.e. disturbance by boats [NOAA Fisheries]!

Due to the over-exploitation of marine life (including sea turtle and shark poaching) [for the exploitation and slaughtering industry of gray whales in the past, see Thomas, in Baja Insider], Costasalvaje (WILDCOAST) began its coastal and marine conservation efforts in 2010, as well as promotion of ecotourism activities in the area. If you are looking for the best experience, recommended whale watching eco tours are as follows: at Bahía Magdalena by Bahía Magdalena Whales; at Laguna Ojo de Liebre by Gray Whale; and at Laguna San Ignacio by Oceanic Society and Baja Discovery.

Gray whales – once called ‘Devil Fish’ as they expressed their violent reactions due to harpooning by whalers [NOAA Fisheries] – have now become known as ‘Friendly Whales’ as they love swimming right up to the boats. They even allow human contact – they are extremely soft to touch [Thomas, in Baja Insider]. As nursing mothers travel back with their young without the presence of males, mothers are less protective and often allow their young to approach boats more freely [Thomas, in Baja Insider].

Identifying the species: the Gray Whale

Some species of the whales, such as the killer whale, are large, distinctive and easy to identify. Other species, however, are more difficult to distinguish, and observers should rely on clues such as colour and body shape, behaviours and group size to determine which species were seen. The first indication that you have spotted the gray whale is a blow, flukes or splash.

Below are some of the key things to look out for when observing the gray whale, but, as it is likely that other cetaceans can also be seen in the wild during the whale watching tours, one can study photos ahead of the trip, published in a very useful article, accompanied by a printable guide, by Wild Whales.

1. By Physical Appearance: size, colour and Body Shape

In terms of SIZE, gray whales measure from 4.5–5 m (14–16 ft) in length for newborn calves to 13–15 m (43–49 ft) for adults – females are slightly larger than males. An adult can weigh more than 35000 kg (80000 lb), while a newborn about 920 kg (2000 lb) – but as a newborn is ‘born to be BIG’, calves may gain 27–32 kg (60–70 lb) each day on their mother’s fat-rich milk [North Journey].

The gray whale is about the same size as 10 large elephants [North Journey]

A close-up of two blowholes of a gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) and some of its encrusted barnacles, San Ignacio Lagoon, Baja California Sur, Mexico / Phil Konstantin @ Wikipedia

A close-up of two blowholes of a gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) and some of its encrusted barnacles, San Ignacio Lagoon, Baja California Sur, Mexico / Phil Konstantin @ Wikipedia

In terms of COLOUR, an adult can be recognised by grey and white mottling patterns on its dark greyish slate skin, while a young has a darker grey to black skin. The patterns are scars or patches left by skin parasites – barnacles and whale lice –, causing the skin look discoloured and giving the mammal the appearance of ‘crusty ocean rock’ [Whale Facts]. The parasites either drop off when the gray whale is in its cold feeding grounds or are still attached. While most of the body is covered with them – with a higher concentration on the head, around the blowholes and its tail – there are little or no parasites on its right side because of the way the gray whale scrapes its body along the ocean bottom to feed.

Gray whales provide a home for more barnacles than any other species [Keith E Jones, in Gray Whale]

A close-up of two blowholes of a gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) showing large assemblage of barnacles, Gulf of the Farallones NMS, California, USA / Jan Roletto @ NOAA: NOAA's Sanctuaries Collection (sanc0118)

A close-up of two blowholes of a gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) showing large assemblage of barnacles, Gulf of the Farallones NMS, California, USA / Jan Roletto @ NOAA: NOAA’s Sanctuaries Collection (sanc0118)

Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) approaching scientists' boat and showing barnacles on the head/ Dr Steven Swartz @ NOAA: NOAA's Ark – Animal Collection (ID anim1730)

Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) approaching scientists’ boat and showing barnacles on the head / Dr Steven Swartz @ NOAA: NOAA’s Ark – Animal Collection (ID anim1730)

In terms of BODY SHAPE, the gray whale has a streamlined body and a narrow head. It has small eyes, about the size of a baseball. When it opens its curved and long mouth, one can observe that, instead of teeth across the upper jaw, it has cream baleen plates with bristles (about 160 pairs) that serve as its filter-feeder system. The tongue can weigh up to 1300 kg (1000-3000 lb). Like all baleen whales, the gray whale – a seasonal, carnivore and bottom feeder – sieves through the mud on the bottom of the ocean floor of the Arctic. In other words, when the mammal takes ocean water into its mouth and then pushes it out, the baleen plates help to filter animals (such as krill, squid and fish) that remain as food source for the whale. The gray whale uses only one side of its baleen, as it usually feeds on its right side. During migration and while in winter breeding grounds, gray whales eat very little. They live off their thick layer of blubber (fat) – c. 25 cm (10 in) thick – which also keeps them warm in cold waters.

Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) breaching while showing its baleen / Merill Gosho @ NOAA: NOAA's Ark – Animal Collection

Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) breaching while showing its baleen / Merill Gosho @ NOAA: NOAA’s Ark – Animal Collection

A baleen of a baby Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) sifts the krill from the sea water, 9 March 2008 / © Jo Crebbin @ Dreamstime (ID 13631684)

A baleen of a baby Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) sifts the krill from the sea water, 9 March 2008 / © Jo Crebbin @ Dreamstime (ID 13631684)

The gray whale has two blowholes near top of its head, which help the animal to exhale at the surface of the water. It can dive for up to 30 minutes and go 155 m (500 ft) deep. Between the deep dives it takes deep breaths for about 3–5 minutes. At rest, it spouts 2–3 times per minute – spouting creates a distinctive V- or heart-shaped blow – low and bushy, up to 3–4 m (9.8–13.1 ft) in height – that can be heard a mile away!

Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) blowing with its calf by side / Dr Steven Swartz @ NOAA: NOAA's Ark – Animal Collection (ID anim1716)

Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) blowing with its calf by side / Dr Steven Swartz @ NOAA: NOAA’s Ark – Animal Collection (ID anim1716)

Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) blowing / Dr Steven Swartz @ NOAA: NOAA's Ark – Animal Collection (ID anim1722)

Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) blowing / Dr Steven Swartz @ NOAA: NOAA’s Ark – Animal Collection (ID anim1722)

The gray whale has no dorsal fin on its back, only a small hump, followed by a series of 8–14 small bumps, known as ‘knuckles’, positioned two-third of the way from the head and leading to the tail. The species has two broad flippers (pectoral fins) – each 1.2–1.5 m (4–5 ft) long – located behind and below the eyes. The flippers help the animal steer, turn and balance.

The whale’s tail consists of two lobes – each known as a fluke – separated by a deep notch, a V-shaped indentation, in the middle where the two meet. The tail measures about 3.6 m (12 ft) across and weighs 136–180 kg (300–400 lb). The flukes are used for propulsion – they are set horizontally on the body and move up and down to propel the whale through the water, unlike fish, which have vertical tails that move left and right. Unique speckled flukes make it easy for scientists to identify each individual.

Speckled flukes (above) of a gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) / Dr Steven Swartz @ NOAA: NOAA's Ark – Animal Collection (ID anim1728)

Speckled flukes (above) of a gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) / Dr Steven Swartz @ NOAA: NOAA’s Ark – Animal Collection (ID anim1728)

2. By Surface Behaviour: Travelling and Stationary

A number of different kind of surface behaviour can be observed, when gray whales come to the surface to breathe – from travelling (e.g. breaching) to stationary (e.g. spyhopping and lobtailing) [for a full list, see Wikipedia]. Gray whales are very unobtrusive at the surface – they are sometimes referred to as ‘breathing rocks’ [Wild Whales]. In addition to respiration, cetaceans have developed and used surface behaviours for many other functions such as display, feeding and communication.

BREACHING is a leap out of the water. It is described by two techniques. First, when the whale (most commonly sperm and humpback whales) swims vertically upwards from depth and heads straight out of the water. Second, when the whale (including the gray whale) travels close to the surface and parallel to it and then jerks upwards at full speed with as few as 3 tail strokes to perform a breach [Wikipedia]. The gray whale jumps only partially out of the water and then falls back in at an angle. Many researchers have suggested that breaching is a behaviour used by whales to remove parasites, such as barnacles and whale lice, from their skin. But, as observed by Keith E Jones [Gray Whale], this is unlikely – first, lagoons are very shallow, and second, adults are too heavy and would be a huge expenditure of their energy. Jones, who have spent years of observing the gray whale, says that only juveniles (1–4 years old) are able to propel out of water, as well as mothers while teaching their babies during their brief instruction period – around mid Feb. While young jump as a form of play, because of their excitement or making them feel good, a breach is, nonetheless, a sign that the animal is physically fit enough to afford energy for this acrobatic display, hence it could be used for ascertaining dominance, courting or warning of danger [Wikipedia].

Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) breaching in a lagoon on the coast of Mexico, Mexico / Dr Steven Swartz @ NOAA: NOAA's Ark – Animal Collection (ID anim1723)

Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) breaching in a lagoon on the coast of Mexico, Mexico / Dr Steven Swartz @ NOAA: NOAA’s Ark – Animal Collection (ID anim1723)

SPYHOOPING is an act of a cetacean (including the gray whale) rising and holding a vertical position, while sticking its head up and partially out of the water. It can last for minutes at a time [Wikipedia], while the mammal is turning around to view the surroundings. Spyhooping is often performed in a social or play context. Most oceanographers believe that spyhooping allows gray whales get a better view of activity near the surface’s water – as their eyes often remain underwater, they think that such behaviour may have more to do with hearing than vision, as in that way the mammal can hear the waves near the surf line that marks its migration route. They have also observed that spyhopping occurs frequently when whales or dolphins interact with tourist boats – owing to their curiosity to find out what all the fuss is about at the surface, they stick their heads out of water [Dolphin Communication Project].

A mother gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) spyhooping and its calf / Dr Steven Swartz @ NOAA: NOAA's Ark – Animal Collection (ID anim1727)

A mother gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) spyhooping and its calf / Dr Steven Swartz @ NOAA: NOAA’s Ark – Animal Collection (ID anim1727)

LOPTAILING, also known as fluke or tail slapping, is an act of a cetacean (including the gray whale) lifting its fluke out of the water before the dive, and then smacking it against the surface hard and fast in order to make a big splash and a loud slapping sound. Unlike dolphins, who tend to remain horizontal and perform flipper slapping, gray whales tend to lobtail by positioning themselves vertically downwards into the water and then slapping the surface by bending the tail. All species are likely to slap several times in a single session time [Wikipedia]. This form of behaviour may serve both to communicate an internal state of aggression or annoyance, as well as to herd and stun fish during foraging.

Flukes (below) of a gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus)/ Dr Steven Swartz @ NOAA: NOAA's Ark – Animal Collection (ID anim1721)

Flukes (below) of a gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) / Dr Steven Swartz @ NOAA: NOAA’s Ark – Animal Collection (ID anim1721)

Other Wildlife

The bay and the lagoons, as well as the nearby mangrove swamps and forests, provide ecosystems and natural habitat for threatened and endangered wildlife. They also serve as a home to other marine mammals, such as blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus), California sea-lion (Zalophus californianus), northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris) and harbour seal (Phoca vitulina). The shallow waters are, furthermore, an ideal habitat for four endangered species of marine turtles – leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) and olive ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea). And, there are also countless breeding and migratory bird species to be observed.

Bibliography

  1. ‘Gray Whale (Eschrichtius robustus)‘, NOAA Fisheries, 13 May 2013. Article [Retrieved 23 Jan 2017].
  2. ‘Gray Whale Spyhop’, National Geography Society. Article [Retrieved 23 Jan 2017].
  3. ‘Gray Whale (Eschrichtius robustus)‘, Wild Whales. Article [Retrieved 26 Jan 2017].
  4. Hazard Ann, ‘Following the Whale Trail’, Whale Watching Tour Directory. Article [Retrieved 30 Jan 2017].
  5. ‘Identifying species’, Wild Whales. Article and Guide [Retrieved 26 Jan 2017].
  6. Jones, Keith E., ‘Why Do Gray Whale Jump’, extract from Gray Whales: My Twenty Years of Discovery, Gray Whale, 2012. Article [Retrieved 26 Jan 2017].
  7. Thomas, ‘Gray Whale Watching in Baja’, in Baja Insider, 15 Jan 2015. Article [Retrieved 23 Jan 2017].
  8. ‘What is spyhooping’, Dolphin Communication Project, 21 Oct 2014. Article [Retrieved 23 Jan 2017].

Online resources for children

  1. ‘Gray Whales’ Journey North / Annenberg Learner. A series of Articles [Retrieved 28 Jan 2017].
  2. ‘Gray Whale Facts’, Whale Facts. Article [Retrieved 28 Jan 2017].
  3. ‘Marine Mammals: Gray Whale’, Kids do Ecology, NCEAS, 2004. Article [Retrieved 28 Jan 2017].
  4. Southall, Brandon, ‘The Kids’ Times: Gray Whale’, NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, Vol II, Issue 4, 2005:1–5. Article [Retrieved 28 Jan 2017].

29 Jan–5 Feb: Festival Internacional de Aves Migratorias de San Blas (‘International Migratory Bird Festival’)

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EVENT

• 29 Jan–5 Feb (varies): FIAM: Festival Internacional de Aves Migratorias de San Blas (‘International Migratory Bird Festival’) – San Blas, Riviera Nayarit, State of Nayarit. An annual festival in San Blas since 2004 that coincides with the Día de San Blas (‘Feast Day of Saint Blas’) (3 Feb), the city’s patron saint (Link 2017 Programme).

Brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) drying wet feathers in San Blas, Nayarit, Mexico / © Otto Dusbaba @ 123rf (ID 9603937)

Brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) drying wet feathers in San Blas, Nayarit, Mexico / © Otto Dusbaba @ 123rf (ID 9603937)

Migratory Birds: Wintering Grounds

Each year thousands of migratory birds inhabit the landscape along the Riviera Nayarit – the jungle, mangroves, wetlands, coffee plantations and mountains – which provides suitable conditions for different species as their wintering grounds.

Activities: Birdwatching

Ornithologists and birdwatchers meet to try to spot as many species as possible of more than 500 species that live in the region.

The festival is focused on conservation, environmental education and ecotourism through participation of the local community. It offers a programme of birdwatching tours (e.g. San Cristobal and El Pozo Estuaries, Isabel Island and La Tovara National Park) and cultural activities (conferences, workshops, children’s activities, dance, plays and music). The festival is one of the best of its type in the country assuring the conservation of the habitat of birds. [For more, see San Blas EcoTours].

Wood storks (Mycteria americana) at a breeding colony in mangroves at San Blas, Nayarit, Mexico / © drferry @ iStock (ID 157705780)

Wood storks (Mycteria americana) at a breeding colony in mangroves at San Blas, Nayarit, Mexico / © drferry @ iStock (ID 157705780)

Easy to spot birds include Brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis), Wood stork (Mycteria americana), Great egret (Ardea alba), Snowy egret (Egretta thula), Boat-billed heron (Cochlearius cochlearius), Northern jacana (Jacana spinosa), Purple gallinule (Porphyrio martinicus), Mottled owl (Strix virgata) and American white ibis (Eudocimus albus).

Snowy egret (Egretta thula) on a beach by the Pacific Ocean, Nayarit, Mexico / © Otto Dusbaba @ 123rf (ID 25318964)

Snowy egret (Egretta thula) on a beach by the Pacific Ocean, Nayarit, Mexico / © Otto Dusbaba @ 123rf (ID 25318964)

Bibliography

  1. ‘List of Birds of Mexico’, Wikipedia, Last modified 15 December 2016. Article [Retrieved 20 Jan 2017].
  2. Philps, Rebecca, ‘Flight of Fancy’, Western Living Magazine, Nov 2011. Article [Retrieved 20 Jan 2017].

Videos

  1. A boat trip up the San Blas River, Mexico, 1962 / Bill Kendall @ YouTube.
  2. Jungle Boat Trip, La Tovara National Park, San Blas, Mexico / http://www.tour.tk @ YouTube.

18 Jan: Día de Santa Prisca (‘Feast of Saint Prisca’)

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• 18 Jan: Día de Santa Prisca (‘Feast of Saint Prisca’) – Taxco, State of Guerrero. A feast day in the city of Taxco commemorating the patron saint of the cathedral, Saint Prisca.

Rituals

The celebrations begin with the blessing of the animals on the Feast of Saint Anthony the Abbot (17 Jan) [see the article]. After the blessing, the competition of best-attired animals begins in the Borda garden. The following day at dawn, hundreds of pilgrims from the state of Guerrero gather outside the cathedral in order to attend the singing of Las Mañanitas to Saint Prisca. Subsequently, an event of regional dancing and fireworks takes place and celebrations continue throughout the day.

Song: Las Mañanitas

Las Mañanitas (‘little mornings’) is a traditional Mexican song sung on birthdays, as an early morning serenade to wake up a loved one. According to the legend, Saint Prisca was a Roman girl, who was tortured and executed for her Christian faith at the age of 13. Thus, she is honoured as a child martyr.

One of the most famous versions of Las Mañanitas is from a 1948 Mexican drama film, Nosotros los pobres (‘We, the Poor’), directed by Ismael Rodríguez. It is sung by the main character, a poor carpenter Pepe ‘El Toro’ (played by Pedro Infante), to his adapted daughter Chachita (‘the young girl’) (played by Evita Muñoz).

Video

  • Las Mañanitas from Nosotros los pobres / uploaded Robert Alejos @ Youtube.

 

17 Jan: Día de San Antonio de Abad (‘Feast of Saint Anthony the Abbot’)

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•17 Jan: Día de San Antonio de Abad (‘Feast of Saint Anthony the Great or the Abbot’) – Nationwide. A feast day commemorating the death of an Egyptian Christian, Saint Anthony the Abbot (c. 251–356 AD), the founder of the Christian monasticism.

Cult: Veneration of the Saint

Saint Anthony Abbot Blessing the Animals, the Poor, and the SickAccording to The Life of Anthony, written by Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 295-373), the saint gave his inheritance to the poor in order to live an ascetic life of a hermit in the desert of northern Egypt, pursuing his spiritual enlightenment in the company of animals. He is considered a patron saint of farmers and a protector of the animal kingdom as well as those inflicted with skin diseases. The popularity of his cult that reached its height in the Middle Ages was due to the Order of Hospitallers of Saint Anthony (founded first as a lay congregation by Gaston of Valloire near Grenoble in France in c. 1095, which later on became a monastic order in 1218). The institution, which spread rapidly through Europe, looked after people suffering from the common medieval disease, known as St. Anthony’s fire (or ergotism). The community kept animals in good health by hanging bells around their necks (to find them at night and to drive away evil spirits).

A miniature (above) – painted by Master of Saint Veronica, Cologne, around 1400–1410, MS. Ludwig (83.MS.49.2.recto), J. Paul Getty Museum – shows Saint Anthony the Abbot, dressed in a black habit of the order (with the Greek letter tau in blue known as Saint Anthony’s cross), blessing people and animals that surround him. On the right, several men carry crutches indicating that the saint was called on to prevent and cure disease in both people and animals.

Ritual: The Blessing of the Animals

An iguana stands on her owners hat outside La Merced Catholic church during the Blessing of the Animals in Oaxaca, Mexico / © Chico Sanchez @ Alamy (ID BM07JJ)

An iguana stands on her owners hat outside La Merced Catholic church during the Blessing of the Animals in Oaxaca, Mexico / © Chico Sanchez @ Alamy (ID BM07JJ)

An integral part of the Feast of Saint Anthony in Mexico is a ritual of the blessing of the animals. Domestic pets, caged and even farm animals – dressed in special outfits and often decorated with flowers, ribbons and bows in their hair – are takenq to a churchyard in order to receive their annual blessing: sprinkled with holy water by a priest while reading a special animal prayer for their good health and fertility.

A boy holds his sheep by a leash as he attends the Blessing of the Animals celebration in Oaxaca, Mexico / © Chico Sanchez @ Alamy (BKKH87)

A boy holds his sheep by a leash as he attends the Blessing of the Animals celebration in Oaxaca, Mexico / © Chico Sanchez @ Alamy (ID BKKH87)

In the Old World, the animal blessing on the Feast of Saint Anthony the Abbot is intertwined with the pre-Christian tradition. The long period between the winter solstice (around 21 Dec) and spring equinox (around 20 March) was full of festivities that involved the rites of purification of the animals, the fields and the people. Under the guise of Catholic feast days, local customs and rituals were tied to those ancient rites of fecundity and regeneration.

It seems likely that the Franciscan monks introduced this tradition to Mexico during the Spanish colonial period. Local Mexicans adapted the tradition of venerating this saint, dedicating their farm work in his honour and asking him to bless their animals. Today, it is held in grateful recognition of the service given to the owners by the animal kingdom.

Video

  • Mexican Animals Get Traditional Blessing on Patron Saint Day / NTDTV @ Youtube.

8–23 Jan: Fiesta Grande / Fiesta de los Parachicos / Fiesta de Enero (‘Great Feast’ / ‘Feast of the Parachicos’ / ‘January Festival’)

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• 8–23 Jan: Fiesta Grande / Fiesta de los Parachicos / Fiesta de Enero (‘Great Feast’ / ‘Feast of the Parachicos’ / ‘January Festival’) – Chiapa de Corzo, State of Chiapas. An annual festive and ceremonial event in the city of Chiapa de Corzo, 15 km from Tuxla Gutiérrez (Link 2017 programme). It is a religious, traditional and popular festival of a series of events – a conjunction of Roman Catholic religious ceremonies and processions; of traditional music and dance in the streets by the residents wearing masks and colourful outfits; of local cuisine, such as pepita con tasajo (‘beef in a sauce of pumpkin seeds’); and of handcrafts, particularly masks, embroidery and lacquerware.

A profile of the head of a Parachico, 15 Jan 2015, Chiapa de Corzo / © Moisés Escobar M @ Wikipedia

A profile of the head of a Parachico, 15 Jan 2015, Chiapa de Corzo, Mexico / © Moisés Escobar M @ Wikipedia

Ritual: A Collective Offering to Three Saints

The festivities take place in honour of three local patron saints on their feast days – El Señor de Esquipulas (‘Black Christ of Esquipulas‘) (15 Jan), San Antonio de Abad (‘Saint Anthony the Abbot’) (17 Jan) and San Sebastián Mártir (‘Saint Sebastian the Martyr’) (20 Jan). Various types of dance through mass participation take place – these dances are considered a ritual of collective offering to these Catholic saints, particularly to the later, all of whom have protected the community for generations. Nowadays, other historical and folkloristic elements are interwoven with the religious celebration – but, overall, it is a communal thanksgiving party to celebrate the past year’s achievements by, nowadays, mostly mestizo (‘mixed indigenous and Spanish’) population.

The parade of Parachicos visiting the Iglesia El Calvario, Chiapa de Corzo, Mexico / © 2009 Coordinación Ejecutiva para la conmemoración del Bicentenario de la Independencia Nacional y del Centenario de la Revolución Mexicana del Estado de Chiapas @ UNESCO Archive

The parade of Parachicos visiting the Iglesia El Calvario, Chiapa de Corzo, Mexico / © 2009 Coordinación Ejecutiva para la conmemoración del Bicentenario de la Independencia Nacional y del Centenario de la Revolución Mexicana del Estado de Chiapas @ UNESCO Archive

Music and Dance: La Danza de los Parachicos

The most essential part of the festival is La Danza de los Parachicos (‘Dance of the Parachicos‘). It has become the highlight of the festival since Nov 2010, when UNESCO declared it as part of the ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity’. Referring to both the dance and the dancers, La Danza de los Parachicos is a mixture of pre-Hispanic roots – the music (flute, whistle, drum and rattle) and dance of the local indigenous group, the Chiapanec Maya (los Chiapanecas) – and Spanish colonial tradition. The dance embraces all spheres of local life, promoting mutual respect among communities, groups and individuals. The locals believe that to be a Parachico is not just to wear the costume but you must be born as one [Concepción Nigenda, in Informador]. For this reason, children as young as 6 take part in the festivities, learning the dance through their participation imitating adult dancers [INAH, in Azteca21]. Also, the technique of mask making is passed down from generation to generation, including cutting of the wood, drying, caring and decorating [UNESCO].

An adult Parachico helping a young Parachico with a montera ('a round wig made of ixtle'), Chiapa de Corzo, Mexico / © 2009 Coordinación Ejecutiva para la conmemoración del Bicentenario de la Independencia Nacional y del Centenario de la Revolución Mexicana del Estado de Chiapas @ UNESCO Archive

An adult Parachico helping a young Parachico with a montera (‘a round wig made of ixtle’), Chiapa de Corzo, Mexico / © 2009 Coordinación Ejecutiva para la conmemoración del Bicentenario de la Independencia Nacional y del Centenario de la Revolución Mexicana del Estado de Chiapas @ UNESCO Archive

Origins: the Parachicos and the Fiesta Grande

There are several versions of the origin of the Parachicos and the Fiesta Grande. Although the music, dance and masks show the pre-Hispanic roots, the religious syncretism of the Fiesta Grande begins from the 17th century onwards with the arrival of the image of San Sebastian from Spain and the construction of the Iglesia de San Sebastián (C17th, now in ruins) built in Mudéjar style. In other words, the syncretism occurs during the process of acculturation, adapting the indigenous dance with masks, mostly representing animals, in accordance with the Catholic calendar and the legend of Doña Maria de Angulo [Gómez Nigenda, in Aquí Noticias].

A view from the side of the west front of the Iglesia de San Sebastián, Chiapa de Corzo, Mexico, / Kaxita @ Wikipedia

A view from the side of the west front of the Iglesia de San Sebastián, Chiapa de Corzo, Mexico / Kaxita @ Wikipedia

1.Pre-Hispanic Legacy: The Ritual Dance of the Chiapanec Maya

The indigenous tradition has it that the origin of the dance is a pre-Hispanic dance performed by the Chiapanec Maya, accompanied by the musical instruments of flute, whistle, drum and rattle. The church of Santo Domingo de Guzmán keeps an old tree – La Pachota or Kapok (Ceiba pentandra). According to the tradition, the town – Villa Real de Chiapa de los Indos, as it was first known until 1552 – was founded around the tree in 1528 by the Spanish conquistador, Diego de Mazariegos y Porres, who became the first Governor of Chiapas (1528–29). However, the tree is said to represent an important symbol from the Mayan mythology: the World Tree, also known as Yaxche or Arbol de La Vida (‘Tree of Life’). As the tree predates the church, it is suggested that the site was used for ceremonies before the arrival of Christianity [Wikipedia]. It, therefore, seems likely that the Chiapanecas performed a ritual dance around the tree dedicated to two gods – Father Sun and Mother Earth – so that they would get good crops. La Danza de los Parachicos is performed in a circle from right to left with soft, regular steps, following the path of the Sun [Trejo, in Padul Cofrade].

The Fountain, with La Pachota, in front of the church of San Domingo de Guzmán, Chiapa de Corzo / © Carolina Garcia Aranda @ Dreamstime (ID 3435210)

The Fountain, with La Pachota, in front of the church of San Domingo de Guzmán, Chiapa de Corzo, Mexico / © Carolina Garcia Aranda @ Dreamstime (ID 3435210)

2. Spanish Colonial Legacy: The Legend of Doña Maria de Angulo

There are several versions of the story, all of which mainly survive through the oral tradition and are said to derive from the Spanish colonial times.

According to one legend [Castro Aguilar, in NVI Noticias], in mid-18th century Doña Maria de Angulo – a rich and beautiful Spanish Catholic lady from Guatemala – came to Chiapa de la Real Corona (the name for the town between 1552–1881), looking for a cure for her 7-year-old son’s paralytic illness from a local curandero (a ‘traditional native healer’ or ‘shaman’, who is, in the local dialect of Chiapanec Maya, called namandiyuguá). The healer took the child to the healing waters of Cumbujuyú (‘the wild boar’s bath’), and after bathing him for nine days the child was miraculously cured. Shortly after, during the years of 1767–68, the town was hit by a terrible plague of locusts that destroyed the crops of corn, beans, legumes and other pulses. According to the document of 1774 – kept at the Archivio General de Centro America in Guatemala [I.A3.13 expediente2988, file 241] – a devastating epidemic of 1770 that followed the famine of 1769 killed hundreds of people and caused a mass exodus to other places. According to the population census of 1762, the town had 7218 inhabitants, but the number dropped to 1095 by 1778. Learning about these calamities, Doña Maria de Angulo, in gratitude for having healed her child, returned to the town with mules laden with a large supply of money and food (corn, beans, fruits) that her maids distributed from house to house – hence, the origin of Chuntás (from the word chuntá meaning ‘maid’ in the local dialect). In the evenings, her servants danced for the amusement of the children in the memory of Doña Maria’s son – hence, the origin of the Parachicos (from the phrase para el chico meaning ‘for the boy’ or ‘for the child’ in Spanish).

In another version, José Francisco Pascacio [AOC, in Informador], the chronicler of Chiapa de Corzo, explains that Doña Maria de Angulo – an elegant woman of Spanish origin from Central America, who came to Chiapa de Corzo in 1711, looking for a cure for her paralysed child from a healer – had made several promises to Saint Sebastian. The healer told Doña Maria that her son suffered from sadness and that she ought to bathe him in the healing waters of a local lake. While the child was being bathed, the local Chiapanec Maya – disguised as Spaniards with masks – began to dance in order to distract and amuse the boy while chanting Para el chico, para el chico (‘For the boy, for the boy’). It is this entertainment that cured the child. In tribute of this miraculous recovery, Doña Maria offered a party with a Comida Grande (‘Great Meal’) of puerco con arroz (‘pork with rice’) and pepita con tasajo – hence, the origin of the Fiesta Grande.

Whichever version of the story may be a driving force behind the origin of the dance and the Fiesta Grande, it is clear that the philanthropy of Doña Maria de Angulo shaped the local imagination that eventually developed the local tradition passed down from generation to generation within the community. Her generosity towards the poor is honoured with a parade of allegorical floats (cars) (22 Jan).

A parade of allegorical cars, 1938 / Courtesy of H. Ayuntamiento de Chiapa de Corzo @ Wikipedia

The parade of allegorical cars, 1938 / Courtesy of H. Ayuntamiento de Chiapa de Corzo @ Wikipedia

The Mask of an Identity: Characters and their Costume

Although the Parachicos are the best and most recognised of the dancers, the Chiapenec Maya also, subsequently, developed two other distinct characters – Chuntás (‘maids’) and Abrecampo (‘open the field’) – among many others. The latter marks the route for the parade with allegorical floats (22 Jan), carrying a young lady – secretly chosen every year and representing Doña Maria, who is throwing coins and sweets to people while going through the streets – and is accompanied by the Chuntás, who are, in turn, followed by the Parachicos accompanied by the Patrón [Explore Chiapas].

Although the origin of the use of the masks has not been determined, they have been used for thousands of years and are a reflection of an identity – they are a legend of past, present and future. [Guadalupe Rubisel Gómez Nigenda, in Aquí Noticias]

1. THE Patrón: of the Dances and Processions

However, the Patrón (‘patron’, ‘supervisor of the hacienda’) is the maximum authority of the Parachicos, their employer, who deeply knows the tradition and holds the position for life. His authority is stressed by wearing a different mask from the other dancers. His mask represents a mature man – with a severe expression showing him with a full beard, open mouth exposing teeth, wrinkles around forehead, prominent and carefully measured eyebrows, and glass eyes.

A Patrón mask, William Breitenbach Collection, Newton Gresham Library, Sam Houston State University / © SHSU Digital Collection

A Patrón mask, William Breitenbach Collection, Newton Gresham Library, Sam Houston State University / © SHSU Digital Collection

He carries a guitar and whip to symbolically punish sin and disobedience, while playing a pito (‘whistle’) accompanied by a drummer.

The Patrón of the Parachicos Atilano Nigenda Mendoza, 1948 / Courtesy of H. Ayuntamiento de Chiapa de Corzo @ Wikipedia

The Patrón of the Parachicos Atilano Nigenda Mendoza, 1948 / Courtesy of H. Ayuntamiento de Chiapa de Corzo @ Wikipedia

In almost three centuries, there have been 20 Patróns. For the last 70 years, the Patrón of the dances and processions has been the Nigenda family, whose house is at 10 Alvaro Obregon Avenue.

The Patrón Guadalupe Rubisel Gomez Nigenda leading the Parachicos while playing a pito ('whistle') and accompanied by the drummer, Chiapa de Corzo, Mexico / © 2009 Coordinación Ejecutiva para la conmemoración del Bicentenario de la Independencia Nacional y del Centenario de la Revolución Mexicana del Estado de Chiapas @ UNESCO Archive

The Patrón Guadalupe Rubisel Gomez Nigenda leading the Parachicos while playing a pito (‘whistle’) and accompanied by the drummer, Chiapa de Corzo, Mexico / © 2009 Coordinación Ejecutiva para la conmemoración del Bicentenario de la Independencia Nacional y del Centenario de la Revolución Mexicana del Estado de Chiapas @ UNESCO Archive

The current Patrón – the third in the family – is Guadalupe Rubisel Gómez Nigenda since 1999 [INAH, in Azteca21], when his uncle, Arsenio Nigenda Tahua (1968–99), ceded his position to him [Cuarto Poder]. His grandfather Atilano Nigenda Mendoza sold his mask in 1948 [see the vintage photo, above], but was donated back to the family’s museum in 2013 [see the mask in El Estado].

The Patrón Guadalupe Rubisel Gomez Nigenda addressing the Parachicos in a place of worship, Chiapa de Corzo, Mexico / © 2009 Coordinación Ejecutiva para la conmemoración del Bicentenario de la Independencia Nacional y del Centenario de la Revolución Mexicana del Estado de Chiapas @ UNESCO Archive

The Patrón Guadalupe Rubisel Gomez Nigenda addressing the Parachicos in a place of worship, Chiapa de Corzo, Mexico / © 2009 Coordinación Ejecutiva para la conmemoración del Bicentenario de la Independencia Nacional y del Centenario de la Revolución Mexicana del Estado de Chiapas @ UNESCO Archive

2. THE Abrecampo

The Abrecampo (from ‘abre el campo’ meaning ‘open the field’) is a male character representing the man in charge of the order he had to establish among the people, who gathered around to receive the gifts from Doña Maria de Angulo. He shouted ‘Open the field for Doña Maria de Angulo to go through’. In the dance, the Abrecampo does not wear a mask, while his body is painted black and he carries a broom.

The Abrecampo dancing with a broom and surrounded by young Chuntás distributing sweets, 22 Jan 2011, Chiapa de Corzo, Mexico / © Yadin Xolalpa @ El Universal

The Abrecampo dancing with a broom and surrounded by young Chuntás distributing sweets, 22 Jan 2011, Chiapa de Corzo, Mexico / © Yadin Xolalpa @ El Universal

 3. The Chuntás

The Chuntás (‘maids’) are normally men dressed as women imitating the maids of Doña Maria, who, along with other Spanish servants (Parachicos), went from house to house distributing money and the food. There are two types of their dance: first, as an individual dance, in which they go out to announce the Fiesta Grande and the celebration of the three local saints (8 Jan), while as a group dance, they join the Parachicos in various places of worship during their processions on several occasions throughout the festival, as well as in the parade of allegorical floats (22 Jan).

The Chuntás do not wear masks but have colourful costumes, normally of floral pattern, traditionally done in embroidery. They carry baskets on their heads, decorated with 7 flags and fruits. They give away the fruit to the public, while dancing to the traditional music of tambor (‘drum’) and carrizo (‘reed flute’) and playing maracas (‘rattles’). The act of giving fruits symbolises the fact that their dance reenacts the search for relief from pain and suffering, such as hunger. [Explore Chiapas]

A group of Chuntás in the parade of allegorical floats (cars), 22 Jan 2011, Chiapa de Corzo, Mexico / © Yadin Xolalpa @ El Universal

A group of Chuntás in the parade of allegorical floats (cars), 22 Jan 2011, Chiapa de Corzo, Mexico / © Yadin Xolalpa @ El Universal

4. The Parachicos

The Parachicos (‘for the boys’, or nowadays, ‘for the children’) are adults, usually male, who dress to mimic the servants of Doña Maria, who helped to distribute food and money. They perform ritual ceremonies – carrying statues of saints and visiting private homes as well as places of worship – in a procession led by the Patrón, who in turn carries a guitar and whip, while playing a pito (‘whistle’) accompanied by one or two drummers. As they dance to the traditional music of pito y tabor, the Patrón intonates the praises to which the Parachicos respond with cheers.

A frontal view of the head of a Parachico, Chiapa de Corzo / Amaya Juan @ Flickr

A frontal view of the head of a Parachico, Chiapa de Corzo, Mexico / Amaya Juan @ Flickr

The colourful costume of the Parachicos consists, most importantly, of a carved mask, supposedly, as a shield to hide the wearer’s face, requesting the Sun to protect him from evil and darkness [El Universal], although it is also believed that it is a reflection of the physical characteristics of the Spanish conquistador [Tierra de lo Grande]. Traditionally made out of red cedar, the mask is, in fact, decorated with lacquer to imitate Spanish features – such as light skin, rosy cheeks, facial hair and blue or green glass eyes. The Parachico is depicted with a mutton-chop beard and closed mouth, but over time these masks have also evolved.

A back view of the head of a Parachico, 15 Jan 2015, Chiapa de Corzo / © Moisés Escobar M @ Wikipedia

A back view of the head of a Parachico, 15 Jan 2015, Chiapa de Corzo, Mexico / © Moisés Escobar M @ Wikipedia

Furthermore, the Parachicos wear a montera (‘a round wig made of ixtle‘ – i.e. a fibre from agave or yucca plants) supposedly ‘representing the rays of the Sun’ [El Universal] and to mimic blonde hair, with multi-coloured ribbons; a Saltillo style striped serapes; and embroidered shawls, usually over black shirt and trousers. The Parachicos also play tin maracas (‘rattles’) – locally known as chinchin or chinchines – decorated with ribbons attached to the top, and shaken during the dance and chant, apparently ‘to request the divine favour to attract the rain and the fertility’ [El Universal].

Processions: A Ceremonial Ritual of the Parachicos

The Parachicos perform ritual ceremonies for 6 days starting on 15 Jan [see ‘List of Events’ below] in a procession led by the Patrón. They officially start in the morning (10am) and conclude at night (10pm).

Before each parade in the early hours of the morning, several Parachicos – the number of participation throughout the festival has increased by 100 times to around 6000 since 50 years ago [INAH, in Azteca21] – gather at the Patrón‘s house in order to dress their costumes, while a musician is playing the drum very quietly and respectfully. Then, they pray for their health as a group. By 10am, people are already gathered in the streets, and private homes, known as the Priostes houses (‘the houses of the Stewards of the saints’), about 20 or so in total, are ready with food and refreshments. The type of food depends on the day – for instance, the most famous traditional dish of Chiapas, called pepita con tasajo (‘thinly cut beef in sauce of dried pumpkin seeds’), is served to the public for the Comida Grande (‘Great Meal’) (20 Jan).

A Parachico eating the traditional dish of Chiapas, called pepita con tasajo, for the Comida Grande, Chiapa de Corzo, Mexico / © 2009 Coordinación Ejecutiva para la conmemoración del Bicentenario de la Independencia Nacional y del Centenario de la Revolución Mexicana del Estado de Chiapas @ UNESCO Archive

A Parachico eating the traditional dish of Chiapas, called pepita con tasajo, for the Comida Grande, Chiapa de Corzo, Mexico / © 2009 Coordinación Ejecutiva para la conmemoración del Bicentenario de la Independencia Nacional y del Centenario de la Revolución Mexicana del Estado de Chiapas @ UNESCO Archive

The first leaving the Patrón‘s house are the musicians playing reed flutes, whistles and drums. At the signal of tururururutuuu, hundreds of Parachicos start dancing and chanting. Eventually, more Parachicos join in the dance. The last leaving the house is the Patrón accompanied by a Chulita a young woman without a mask but wearing the traditional costume of Chiapas (a two-part black satin costume, of a long skirt and a shirt, with a pattern of flowers hand-embroidered in vivid silk threads) and representing the women of Chiapas (the Chiapanecas).

During the dance, the Patrón intonates the praises to which the Parachicos respond with cheers, while lifting their feet and moving their bodies. Then follow the flags representing various saints carried by a family member of each Priostes house. At the centre of the Priostes group is the flag of the city’s patron saint and ‘the king’ of the festival, Saint Sebastian.

The parade of the Parachicos leading the Priostes group carrying the statue and flag of Saint Sebastian, Chiapa de Corzo, Mexico / © 2009 Coordinación Ejecutiva para la conmemoración del Bicentenario de la Independencia Nacional y del Centenario de la Revolución Mexicana del Estado de Chiapas @ UNESCO Archive

The parade of the Parachicos leading the Priostes group carrying the statue and flag of Saint Sebastian, Chiapa de Corzo, Mexico / © 2009 Coordinación Ejecutiva para la conmemoración del Bicentenario de la Independencia Nacional y del Centenario de la Revolución Mexicana del Estado de Chiapas @ UNESCO Archive

While dancing on the street through various neighbourhoods, the Parachicos visit various Priostes houses and places of worship, which are adorned with enramas (‘interlaced branches of fruits, breads, sweets, as well as flower garlands’).

Enramas suspended from the ceiling of a place of worship, Chiapa de Corzo, Mexico / © 2009 Coordinación Ejecutiva para la conmemoración del Bicentenario de la Independencia Nacional y del Centenario de la Revolución Mexicana del Estado de Chiapas @ UNESCO Archive

Enramas suspended from the ceiling of a place of worship, Chiapa de Corzo, Mexico / © 2009 Coordinación Ejecutiva para la conmemoración del Bicentenario de la Independencia Nacional y del Centenario de la Revolución Mexicana del Estado de Chiapas @ UNESCO Archive

The Parachicos visiting places of worship decorated with enramas, Chiapa de Corzo, Mexico / © 2009 Coordinación Ejecutiva para la conmemoración del Bicentenario de la Independencia Nacional y del Centenario de la Revolución Mexicana del Estado de Chiapas @ UNESCO Archive

The Parachicos visiting places of worship decorated with enramas, Chiapa de Corzo, Mexico / © 2009 Coordinación Ejecutiva para la conmemoración del Bicentenario de la Independencia Nacional y del Centenario de la Revolución Mexicana del Estado de Chiapas @ UNESCO Archive

In churches, other characters also join the Parachicos: the Abrecampo, the Chuntás and the Chiapanecas [AOC, in Informador].

The Abrecampo in a place of worship, Chiapa de Corzo, Mexico / © Ricardo Espinosa @ 500px

The Abrecampo in a place of worship, Chiapa de Corzo, Mexico / © Ricardo Espinosa @ 500px

A young Chiapaneca wearing the traditional dress of Chiapas, Chiapa de Corzo, Mexico / Tierra de lo Grande

A young Chiapaneca wearing the traditional dress of Chiapas, Chiapa de Corzo, Mexico / Tierra de lo Grande

Handcraft: The Making of Masks

Chiapa de Corzo has, therefore, established a reputation as one of the most famous places in Mexico for a high quality artisanship in the craft of mask making [for ‘Mexican Masks’, see Wikipedia]. The masks, mostly carved in red cedar wood, painted and lacquered, have become works of art in their own right, which allow for aesthetic enjoyment – masks with serious, smiling and caricatured faces, with kind and evil appearances [Gómez Nigenda, in Aquí Noticias].

The great workshops of mask makers in the town are, for example, those of Franco Lázaro Gómez, Miguel Vargas Jiménez and Antonio López Hernández. The latter, in particular, is widely recognised for a high quality of mask carving of Parachicos – in 1998 he won the Premio Nacional de Artes y Tradiciones Populares (‘National Prize for Popular Arts and Traditions’).

The mask maker Antonio López Hernández at work, Chiapa de Corzo, Mexico / © 2009 Coordinación Ejecutiva para la conmemoración del Bicentenario de la Independencia Nacional y del Centenario de la Revolución Mexicana del Estado de Chiapas @ UNESCO Archive

The mask maker Antonio López Hernández at work, Chiapa de Corzo, Mexico / © 2009 Coordinación Ejecutiva para la conmemoración del Bicentenario de la Independencia Nacional y del Centenario de la Revolución Mexicana del Estado de Chiapas @ UNESCO Archive

He makes about 6–8 pieces a year, plus other religious images, based on a technique of carving that he learned in the workshop of his teacher Miguel Vargas Jiménez in the 1950s. He said that the old masks for a Parachico were chubby, had no beard and had a child’s face – but the making of masks, and their final ornamentation, has now evolved due to a mass demand [INAH, in Azteca21]. For instance, a full-bearded Parachico mask was introduced in 1963 – it is ‘similar to that of the Patrón mask as it has a closed mouth and wrinkles but similar to the traditional Parachico mask when comparing the nose and mouth’ as it can be seen in the two images below from the William Breitenbach Collection [Williamson, Sam Houston State University].

A Parachico mask, William Breitenbach Collection, Newton Gresham Library, Sam Houston State University / © SHSU Digital Collection

A Parachico mask, William Breitenbach Collection, Newton Gresham Library, Sam Houston State University / © SHSU Digital Collection

A bearded Parachico mask, William Breitenbach Collection, Newton Gresham Library, Sam Houston State University / © SHSU Digital Collection

A bearded Parachico mask, William Breitenbach Collection, Newton Gresham Library, Sam Houston State University / © SHSU Digital Collection

List of Events of the Fiesta Grande

Although the Fiesta Grande is celebrated every day (Link 2017 programme), the most representative days are as follows (in red).

  • 8 Jan – Announcement of the Fiesta Grande and of the celebration of the three local saints is made by the first dance of the Chuntás led by the Abrecampo.
  • 14 Jan – Announcement of the Feast of Saint Anthony the Abbot.
  • 15 Jan – Feast of Our Lord of Esquipulas is celebrated at the church of Iglesia del Señor de los Milagros (10am). The first parade of the Danza de los Parachicos.
  • 16 Jan – Announcement of the Feast of Saint Sebastian the Martyr by by the second dance of the Chuntás led by the Abrecampo.
  • 17 Jan – Feast of Saint Anthony the Abbot. The second parade of the Danza de los Parachicos.
  • 18 Jan – The third parade as the Parachicos visit the graves of their deceased Patrónes.
  • 19 Jan – Announcement of the Party in the Park.
  • 20 Jan – Feast of Saint Sebastian the Martyr. The fourth parade of the Danza de los Parachicos. Activities start early in the Santuario de San Sebastián Mártir. The most famous traditional dish of Chiapas, called pepita con tasajo (‘thinly cut beef in  sauce of dried pumpkin seeds’), is served to the public for the Comida Grande.
  • 21 JanRepresentation of the Naval Combat recalling the battles of the conquest of 1524 and 1528 between the Spaniards and the Chiapanec Maya on the Rio Grijalva (‘Grijalva River’), and of the subsequent uprising of 1532 and 1534 – takes place in the form of a spectacle of fireworks. According to the writings of Bernal Díaz de Castillo, who accompanied Hernán Cortés‘s expedition during the conquest of New Spain, the Chiapanec Maya were ‘the best warriors I have seen in all of New Spain’. They were the last indigenous group of Mexico to have been conquered by the Spaniards – led under the campaign of the conquistador Diego de Mazariegos y Porres – in 1528, who, with their continuous resistance that led to their near extinction, became finally absorbed into the Spanish Crown on 28 Aug 1552. The tradition of fireworks began in 1599, when Pedro de Barrientos, a vicar of the 16th-century church, Santo Domingo de Guzmán, encouraged the development of fireworks making. He invented the idea of a naval battle.
  • 22 Jan – The fourth parade with allegorical floats (cars) representing the entourage of Doña Maria de Angulo, the benefactor of the city in colonial times, dressed as a beautiful lady giving sweets and coins to the public. The figure of the Doña is represented by the secret election of a young lady from the community. The parade is headed by Abrecampo, Chuntás and Parachicos, who are dancing to the sound of the flute and drum. Also, a day of confetti and mariachis.
  • 23 Jan – The last and six parade of the Danza de los Parachicos. The festival is concluded when the change of the Priostes (‘Stewards of the Saints’) takes place and the Parachicos attend a thanksgiving mass in the church of Santo Domingo de Guzmán (5pm). The images of the saints are given to new Priostes families, who will look after the images for a year. After the mass, the Parachicos accompany the Patrón to his home for the last dance in order to give a farewell to this year’s party and wait for the next year [Explore Chiapas]. During these last hours, the drums and flutes play a melancholy tune as the fireworks end and the streets become quiet.

Bibliography

  1. AOC, ‘La Fiesta Grande de Chiapa de Corzo’, in Informador, 29 Nov 2010. Article [Retrieved 6 Jan 2017].
  2. Aquí Noticias Editorial, ‘La máscara reflejo de identidad, leyenda, pasado, presente y futura: Rubisel Gómez Nigenda’, in Aquí Noticias, 27 Oct 2014. Article [Retrieved 6 Jan 2017].
  3. Castro Aguilar, José Luis, ‘Todo es grande’, in NVI Noticias, 20 Jan 2014. Article [Retrieved 6 Jan 2017].
  4. El Universal Editorial, ‘¡Allí vienen los parachicos!’, in El Universal, 12 Jan 2014. Article [Retrieved 6 Jan 2017].
  5. Hursh Graber, Karen, ‘The cuisine of Chiapas: Dining in Mexico’s last frontier’, in Mexconnect, 1 Jan 2003. Article [Retrieved 6 Jan 2017].
  6. INAH, ‘Tradición de Los parachicos de Chiapa de Corzo, vive tiempos de auge y desafío’, in Azteca 21, 21 Jan 2011. Article [Retrieved 6 Jan 2017].
  7. ‘La Fiesta Grande: Heroica Cuidad Chiapa de Corzo’, in Explore Chiapas, 1 Oct 2011. Article [Retrieved 6 Jan 2017].
  8. López Ruiz, Sergio Alejandro, ‘Los Chuntás y el Abrecampo’, in Todos Chiapas, 8 Jan 2013. Article [Retrieved 6 Jan 2017].
  9. López Ruiz, Sergio Alejandro, ‘Pepita con Tasajo’, in Todos Chiapas, 21 Jan 2013. Article [Retrieved 6 Jan 2017].
  10. Mark, Joshua J, ‘The Mayan Pantheon: The Many Gods of the Maya’, in Ancient History, 7 July 2012. Article [Retrieved 6 Jan 2017].
  11. Mendoza, Darwin, ‘Último día de los parachicos’, in Cuarto Poder, 23 Jan 1999. Link [Retrieved 6 Jan 2017].
  12. Official website of the festival. ‘Fiesta Grande: La Fiesta de Enero’, in Tierra de lo Grande. Article [Retrieved 6 Jan 2017].
  13. Press Agency, ‘Parachicos, alma de las tradiciones chiapanecas’, in El Estado, 16 Jan 2016. Article [Retrieved 6 Jan 2017].
  14. Thomas, Scott, ‘The Black Christ of Esquipulas: A Brief Look into El Cristo Negro’. Article [Retrieved 6 Jan 2017].
  15. Trejo, Ángel, ‘Así se celebra la festividad de San Sebastián en: Chiapa De Corzo (México)’, in Padul Cofrade. Article [Retrieved 6 Jan 2017].
  16. UNESCO, ‘Parachicos in the traditional Januar feast of Chiapa de Corzo’, in UNESCO: Intangible Cultural Heritage, 16 Nov 2010. Article [Retrieved 6 Jan 2017].
  17. Williamson, James, ‘Danza de los Parachicos from William Breitenbach Collection of Mexican Masks’, in Out of the Box: Treasures of Newton Gresham Library, Sam Houston State University, 5 March 2013. Article. More on the Breitbenbach Mexican Mask Collection, see here [Retrieved 6 Jan 2017].

6 Jan: Día de los Reyes (‘Three Kings’ Day’)

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• 6 Jan: Día de los Tres Reyes Magos, or short, Día de los Reyes (‘Three Kings’ Day’ / ‘Three Magi’s Day’ / ‘Three Wise Men’s Day’ / ‘Epiphany’) – Observance/nationwide. A feast day commemorating the visit of Jesus Christ by the Three Kings (Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar) on the 12-day after his birth, bringing him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Although, officially, the end of the Christmas season in Mexico – starting with celebrations related the patroness of Mexico on Día de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (‘Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe’) (12 Dec) – the season is not really over until Día de la Candelaria (‘Candlemas Day’) (2 Feb).

Rituals: Gifts for Children

The day is also a joy for all Mexican children as they traditionally receive gifts at Epiphany rather than at Christmas. During the days preceding the Three Kings, children write letters to them requesting their presents. The night before the Three Kings, the figures of the Magi are placed in the nacimiento (‘nativity scene’).

Nativity Scene at Colegio Motolinia De Antequera, Oaxaca, Mexico / Andreja Brulc

A nativity scene at Colegio Motolinia De Antequera, Oaxaca, Mexico / Andreja Brulc

In some parts of Mexico, like in Oaxaca, children traditionally leave their letters in their shoes by the doorway – or other strategic place they may consider auspicious as a place of visit – stuffed with a bit of hay to feed the animals (camel) on which the Kings arrive. When children wake up the following morning, their gifts appear in place of the hay.

In other parts, children send their note in a helium balloon into the sky, explaining why they have been good or bad that year and listing the gifts they would like to receive if deemed worthy.

Nowadays, like Santa Claus in the States (or Father Christmas in Europe) – a recent importation to Mexico as some children receive presents from Santa Claus too – the Kings tend to leave their gifts under the Christmas tree.

Pan dulce: Rosca de reyes

Furthermore, for the Three King’s day, it is a tradition to eat pan dulce (‘sweet bread’) called Rosca de reyes. The bread is decorated with piña (‘pineapple’) and higos (‘figs’) [for recipe click here].

Home-made Rosca de Reyes, Oaxaca, Mexico / Andreja Brulc

A home-made Rosca de Reyes, Oaxaca, Mexico / Andreja Brulc

El muñeco (‘a tiny plastic figure’) of baby Jesus is hidden inside the bread. The tradition of placing a trinket into the bread is very old. The baby Jesus, when hidden in the bread, represents the flight of Jesus from King Herod’s evil plan to kill all the babies that could be the prophesied Messiah. The person, who gets the baby Jesus, is considered as the godparent of Jesus for that particular year! He or she must take the figurine to the nearest church on Día de la Candelaria (‘Candlemas Day’) (2 Feb). In Mexican culture, the person also has to organise a party and provide tamales and atole de leche or chocolate de leche (‘milk chocolate’) for the guests.

Commercially-made Rosca de Reyes still in the box, Oaxaca, Mexico / Andreja Brulc

A commercially-made Rosca de Reyes still in the box, Oaxaca, Mexico / Andreja Brulc

Commercially-made Rosca de Reyes out of the box, Oaxaca, Mexico / Andreja Brulc

A commercially-made Rosca de Reyes out of the box, Oaxaca, Mexico / Andreja Brulc

I found my home-made Rosca in one of the houses on the Calle de Porfirio Diáz in Oaxaca. I could not resist the lovely cinnamon and orange smell that came out of the house onto the street!

Home-made Rosca de Reyes in a glass display case by the entrance of a house on the Calle de Porfirio Diáz, Oaxaca, Mexico / Andreja Brulc

A home-made Rosca de Reyes in a glass display case by the entrance of a house on the Calle de Porfirio Diáz, Oaxaca, Mexico / Andreja Brulc

I was especially amazed by the large Rosca women of the house had made for the party that was seemingly about to take place. The courtyard smelt absolutely delicious!

A large home-made Rosca de Reyes in the courtyard of a house on the Calle de Porfirio Diáz, Oaxaca, Mexico / Andreja Brulc

A large home-made Rosca de Reyes in the courtyard of a house on the Calle de Porfirio Diáz, Oaxaca, Mexico / Andreja Brulc

Game: Sharing a Rosca

Sharing a Rosca with your family, friends, neighbours or colleagues is really a fun and exciting way of socialising. Everyone ‘fears’ to cut a piece as it may contain el muñeco – except for the very young kids, who are more than happy to have a toy!

The child is sharing a Rosca de Reyes with his mum, Oaxaca, Mexico / Andreja Brulc

The child is sharing a Rosca de Reyes with his mum, Oaxaca, Mexico / Andreja Brulc

I shared my Rosca with my Mexican friends. We all had a go after la comida – the main meal in Oaxaca that normally takes place around 3 pm. I was honoured to have the first go – I was lucky but only for a centimeter as the next piece contained ‘the thing’.

A muñeco found in the Rosca de Reyes, Oaxaca, Mexico / Andreja Brulc

A muñeco found in the Rosca de Reyes, Oaxaca, Mexico / Andreja Brulc

The child is surprised at finding a muñeco in his piece of the Rosca de Reyes, Oaxaca, Mexico / Andreja Brulc

The child is surprised at finding a muñeco in his piece of the Rosca de Reyes, Oaxaca, Mexico / Andreja Brulc

It turned out, as I was told, that a commercially made Rosca contains more figures that a traditionally home-made one. Also, the larger the Rosca the more figures can be found. The one I bought had none, but it surely outdid the commercial one on its fragrance and flavour!

Of course, after a few muñecos were found in the pieces, it was bound to be my next turn! And sure it was! I am still to stage a party for my friends in London!

Another muñeco found in the Rosca de Reyes, Oaxaca, Mexico / Andreja Brulc

Another muñeco found in the Rosca de Reyes, Oaxaca, Mexico / Andreja Brulc

1 Jan: Año Nuevo (‘New Year’s Day’)

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• 1 Jan: Año Nuevo (‘New Year’s Day’) – National holiday. Still part of the Christmas season, Año Nuevo is a day of rest after the longest night of the year – the Nochevieja (‘New Year’s Eve’, literally ‘Old Night’).

Rituals

The New Year’s Eve is celebrated in much the same way like anywhere else in the world, with some exceptions, such as the old Spanish tradition of eating twelve grapes rapidly along with the twelve chimes of the clock at midnight in order to bring good luck for each month of the coming year.

There are many other rituals and beliefs that promise a good year ahead (mainly health, money and love) – the most popular one is wearing red (love) and yellow (money) underwear inside out.

After the New Year’s Eve dinner – which varies depending on the region – people watch firework displays and continue partying with friends.

Fireworks for the Nochevieja, Oaxaca, Mexico / Andreja Brulc

Fireworks for the Nochevieja, Oaxaca, Mexico / Andreja Brulc

In traditional indigenous communities, new tribe leaders are inaugurated with colourful ceremonies rooted in the pre-Hispanic times.

Quema del Año Viejo

In southern regions of Mexico (and other parts of Central and South Americas), there is a custom known as Quema del Año Viejo (‘Old Year Puppet Burning’) – the making of a doll (a puppet) made out of cardboard, filled with sawdust or straw and fireworks, and dressed in old cloths. The puppet represents the Old Year and is set alight at midnight as a ritual of purification to ward off bad luck or negative energies [see Matias Vázquez‘s image].

 

Celebrations and Fiestas: Festival and Holiday Calendar

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Mexico is a country famous for its lavish festivals and spirited celebrations. Mexicans adore fun, music and fiestas. They are very proud of their national state, their roots and traditions. Fireworks, loud music (mariachi or banda), flowers, colourful decorations (papel picado) and street food stalls are staged everywhere for celebrations and fiestas. Celebrations and fiestas are highly colourful affairs, which often go on for several days.

Fireworks for Dia de los Muertos, Oaxaca, Mexico / Andreja Brulc

Fireworks for Dia de los Muertos, Oaxaca, Mexico / Andreja Brulc

Mariachi band entering the Templo de San Mateo, Capulálpam de Méndez, Sierra Juárez, Oaxaca, Mexico / Andreja Brulc

A brass band (banda) entering the Templo de San Mateo, Capulálpam de Méndez, Sierra Juárez, Oaxaca, Mexico / Andreja Brulc

Flags (papel picado) for the Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe suspended from the Church of Santa Maria del Tule, Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico / Andreja Brulc

Flags (papel picado) for the Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe suspended from the Church of Santa Maria del Tule, Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico / Andreja Brulc

Flower sweets for the Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe, in front of the Church of Preciosa Sange de Christo, Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico / Andreja Brulc

Flower sweets for the Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe, in front of the Church of Preciosa Sange de Christo, Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico / Andreja Brulc

Considering that Mexico has recently overtaken South Korea’s record of the largest number of hours that a worker spends at work per annum [according to Key tables from OECD], the country still manages to beat everyone in the world with the largest amount of festivals, fairs and feast days in the world. Apparently, if statistics are to believe, according to the Mexican Department of Tourism, there are around 5000–6000 known fiestas celebrated each year in Mexico [Franz & Havens, 2006:307].

Octavio Paz on Fiestas

An interesting observation on celebrations and fiestas in Mexico comes from the country’s most celebrated writer, Octavio Paz (1914–1998), the Noble Prize winner for literature in 1990. In the opening paragraph of his essay ‘The Day of the Dead’ – one of the nine essays compiled in his highly influential philosophical work, The Labyrinth of Solitude (‘El laberinto de la soledad’) (first published in 1950) – he says that:

The solitary Mexican loves fiestas and public gatherings. Any occasion for getting together will serve, any pretext to stop the flow of time and commemorate men and events with festivals and ceremonies. We are a ritual people, and this characteristic enriches both our imaginations and our sensibilities, which are equally sharp and alert. The art of the fiesta has been debased almost everywhere else, but not in Mexico. There are few places in the world where it is possible to take part in a spectacle like our great religious fiestas with their violent primary colors, their bizarre costumes and dances, their fireworks and ceremonies, and their inexhaustible welter of surprises: the fruit, candy, toys and other objects sold on these days in the plazas and open-air markets. [Paz, 1985:47]

Fireworks for the Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe, Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico / Andreja Brulc

Fireworks for the Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe, Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico / Andreja Brulc

A key work in understanding Mexican culture, this collection dissects the character of his countrymen, describing them as hidden behind masks of solitude. “Paz observes that solitude is responsible for the Mexican’s perspective on death, ‘fiesta’, and identity. Death is seen as an event that is celebrated but at the same time repelled because of the uncertainty behind it. As for the fiestas, they express a sense of communality, crucially emphasizing the idea of not being alone and in so doing helps to bring out the true Mexican that is usually hidden behind a mask of self-denial. This represents the way in which the Mexicans have inherited two distinct cultures, the indigenous and the Spanish, but by denying one part of their identity, they become stuck in a world of solitude.” [Wikipedia]

Flower sweets for the Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe, in front of the Church of Preciosa Sange de Christo, Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico / Andreja Brulc

Flower sweets for the Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe, in front of the Church of Preciosa Sange de Christo, Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico / Andreja Brulc

Types of Holidays

There are three major kinds of holidays [see Wikipedia] in Mexico: Statutory holidays, Civic holidays and Festivities.

a.) Días Feriados or Días de asueto (‘Statutory holidays’) – A number of national and public (bank) holidays that are legislated through the Federal government, decreed by statute and ruled by the Federal Labour Law (Ley Federal del Trabajo). Employees are entitled to a day off with regular pay and schools are closed. When a statutory holiday falls on a Sunday or a Saturday, Monday or Friday, respectively, is considered a day off. There are currently 10 statutory holidays. With the exception of Año Nuevo (1 Jan), Jueves Santo (‘Maundy Thursday’) and Viernes Santo (‘Good Friday’) (varies), Día de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (12 Dec) and Día de la Navidad (25 Dec), 5 of them are associated with modern historical events from the 19th century, known as Fiestas Patrias (‘Patriotic Holidays’): Día de la Constitución (5 Feb (*6 Feb 2017)), Natalicio de Benito Juárez (21 Mar (*20 March 2017)), Día de Trabajo (1 May), Día de la Independencia (16 Sep), and Día de la Revolución (20 Nov). Additionally, there is also Transmision del Poder Ejecutivo Federal (1 Dec) every 6 years (next time on 1 Dec 2018). However, the Independence Day is the most important public holiday in Mexico.

 b.) Civic holidays – Numerous holidays observed nationwide. Employees are not entitled to a day off with pay, although some states and municipalities may observe them and offer time off in their locale: Día del Ejercito (19 Feb), Día de la Bandera (24 Feb), Anniversario de la Expropriacion Petrolera (18 Mar), Heroica Defensa de Veracruz (21 Apr), Cinco de Mayo (5 May), Natalicio de Miguel Hidalgo (8 May), Día de la Marina (1 June), Día de los Niños Heroes (13 Sep), Natalicio de José María Morelos y Pavón (30 Sep), Día de la Raza (12 Oct), Día de la Armada de Mexico (23 Nov), and so on.

c.) Festivities/Festivals – A large number of traditional holidays and festivals – not statutory or civic – that commemorate religious events (La Cuaresma (Lent), Semana Santa (Easter), La Navidad (Christmas) or are public celebrations and observances (Día de la Madre (10 May), Día del Padre (18 June), Día del Amor y la Amistad/Día de San Valentin (14 Feb), Días de los Muertos (1–2 Nov), and so on).

As Mexico’s population today is, by and large, Roman Catholic (91% according to the 2010 census), the country’s major holidays, therefore, correspond to the church calendar. The Roman Catholic Church uses the Gregorian calendar (i.e. Western or Christian calendar) as the basis for its liturgical calendar that defines the liturgical year – also known as the Christian year – and sets Christian seasons in accordance with the Roman Rite. The liturgical year is divided into an annual cycle of seasons that determines when feast days – including celebrations of saints (see ‘saints by date’ in calendar and in list formats) – are to be observed, and which portions of Scripture are to be read. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:

Feast Days, or Holy Days, are days which are celebrated in commemoration of the sacred mysteries and events recorded in the history of our redemption through the life of Christ, in memory of the Virgin Mother of Christ, or of His apostles, martyrs, and saints, by special services and rest from work. A feast not only commemorates an event or person, but also serves to excite the spiritual life by reminding us of the event it commemorates. Every religion has its feasts, but none has such a rich and judiciously constructed system of festive seasons as the Catholic Church. The succession of these seasons form the ecclesiastical (liturgical) year, in which the feasts of Our Lord form the ground and framework, the feasts of the Blessed Virgin and the Saints the ornamental tracery.

The liturgical year, therefore, centers on the life of Jesus Christ that begins with the season of Advent (4th Sundays before Christmas ending on Christmas Eve) and is followed by other seasons in order: Christmastide (12 Day-Christmas season beginning with Midnight Mass when Christmas Eve becomes Christmas Day and finishing on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord), Ordinary Time (Time after the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus Christ ending on Shove Tuesday), Lent (a 40-day period before Easter beginning on Ash Wednesday and finishing on Holy Thursday), Easter Triduum (a period from Eve of Holy Thursday to Eve of Easter Sunday), Eastertide (7 week-Easter season beginning on Easter Sunday and finishing on Pentecost Sunday) and Ordinary Time (Time from Pentecost until 1st Sun of Advent).

However, the religious festivals in Mexico represent a fusion of pre-Hispanic traditions and Catholic beliefs. Following the Spanish Conquest (1519–1521), the Catholic Church adopted indigenous customs and rituals in order to incorporate them into their own practices so that it could propagate the new faith to the indigenous population. For this reason, there are many special traditions in Mexico, for instance, surrounding Christmas – some of which originated in Spain, while others developed due to the country’s particular history. Although, officially, the Christmas season beings on 12 Dec – with celebrations related the patroness of Mexico on Día de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (‘Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe’) – and finishes on 6 Jan with Día de los Reyes (‘Three Kings’ Day’ or ‘Epiphany’), the season is not really over until Día de la Candelaria (‘Candlemas Day’) on 2 Feb.

In addition to the national, public and civic holidays, as well as major religious festivals, there are also festivals related to agriculture. Also, there are many regional and local celebrations. For instance, every community has its own fiesta – each town has many local saints (the main one for the city or town plus each quarter has its own), which are celebrated on their feast days. Some feast days are a focal point of major festivals. Many cities or towns also host food and drink festivals, harvest festivals, as well as local, regional, national and international fairs, trades shows, arts festivals, and so on.

Detail of the flags (papel picado) for the Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe suspended from the Church of Santa Maria del Tule, Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico / Andreja Brulc

A detail of the flags (papel picado) for the Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe suspended from the Church of Santa Maria del Tule, Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico / Andreja Brulc

The List of Events

Under ‘Calendar’ page [click here], there is just a handful selection of events arranged as a yearly calendar. The list will grow throughout the year of 2017.

Sources

  1. ‘Average annual working time (Hours per worker)’, Key tables from OECD. Link.
  2. Franz, Carl & Havens, Lorena, The People’s Guide to Mexico, Avalon Travel Publishing, 2006.
  3. Paz, Octavio, The Labyrinth of Solitude, Penguin Books, 1985 (first published by Grove Press, 1961).

Happy 2017

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Thank you for visiting my new blog dedicated to Mexico! I wish you a prosperous and happy 2017!

In addition to my main blog – Andreja Brulc’s Blog – this blog is my evening and weekend occupation – based on my travel experience around Mexico and research work I have done for an upcoming children’s picture book as part of art residency project in Oaxaca. More soon on ‘About’ page.

Happy 2017 / © Andreja Brulc

The above typographic card – based on ‘Happy 2013‘ card done while at art residency – consists of food ingredients, all of which are staple foods and native to Mexico. It starts and ends with the essential ingredients of Mexican cuisine – beans as in ‘beans’ and beans as in ‘chocolate’. The ‘typo card’ is my idea of Como agua para chocolate! If you have not read the book or seen the movie, read or see it in 2017! Only then one can understand Mexicans’ ‘love affair’ with their food!