Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas Festivals, Oaxaca City, Mexico: December 17-24, 2017

The Virgin of Soledad wearing her 5-pound golden crown encrusted with 600 diamonds
We arrived in Oaxaca City a few days early so we could experience the Festival of the Virgin of Soledad.

The Virgin of Soledad (Solitude) is the patrona of Oaxaca. Oaxacans love her because she chose them. The legend goes that in 1620 a mule driver guiding a mule train through the streets of Oaxaca on his way to Guatemala suddenly realized that he had an extra mule that was also carrying a huge box on its back. The mule collapsed under the burden it was carrying.  He didn't want to be accused of stealing so he reported this additional mule and its load to Oaxacan authorities. Once the authorities lifted the box off the mule, the mule stood but immediately died.

The city authorities opened the box and found inside the image of the Blessed Virgin of Solitude. The city authorities deferred to the Bishop of Oaxaca who immediately ordered that a sanctuary be built to honor the Virgin of Solitude. The Basilica of Our Lady of Solitude was finished in 1690.

Basilica of Our Lady of Solitude
This second night of the three-day festival included a procession with the "traveling" Virgin of Soledad and fireworks.




During the festival, the area around the Basilica was crowded with stands selling irresistible food.



Tacos at "The Queen of Tacos" stand were fabulous and we couldn't resist trying elote. Elote is grilled Mexican street corn on a skewer. The boiled and then charcoal grilled corn was slathered with lime-flavored mayo, rolled in shredded cheese, and sprinkled with chili powder. The corn was the starchy kind and it is grilled to a toughness that fights being eaten. A more demure choice would have been the esquites which is the off-the-cob version served in a cup. The aroma of all those flavors is divine.


The next evening we watched a flamboyant Nativity pageant outside of the Santo Domingo Church. Actors entered the stage from the center aisle: angels, Mary and Joseph, shepherds, animals, wisemen, roman guards, mariachis, flower girls, even giant paper mâchè puppets. The story had a real baby and ended with fireworks.
Joseph and Mary



The nativity pageant was followed by piñatas. Piñatas were suspended from ropes across the street. The street was sectioned into age groups. We watched the age 4-7 group pummel their piñatas and scrum for the candy. Then we moved on to the 50+ age group. The over 50s didn't have any less enthusiasm for whacking their piñatas and when they candy rained down, they were just as joyful.


Ages 4-7 - Candy Scrum


Age 50+ - Candy Scrum
There were a couple of differences between the 4-7 group and the 50+ group. In the 50+ candy scrum there was a woman with a walker who lifted the walker up so she could get closer to the candy. Second, the emergency ambulance was parked next to the 50+ age group's section.

Another religious event that occurs for the several days before Christmas Eve is a re-enactment of Mary and Joseph searching for a place to stay for the night during the census pilgrimage. The re-enactment is called a "Posada". The Spanish word "posada" means inn. Neighborhoods and other groups sponsor posadas. The first posada we saw was a group of young people. Mary and Joseph were not in costume but were holding statues of Mary and Joseph. The walk is accompanied by singing.


Later we saw a more formal Posada that began at the Santo Domingo Church and continued to the Basilica of Our Lady of Solitude. This one attracted a huge crowd of followers. Along the way, Joseph and Mary stopped to ask if there was room at the inn. Turned away, the entire entourage continued to the next inn and the next inn. When they arrived at the Basilica, the doors were closed. Joseph knocked on the door and the church doors were flung open. Finally, a room at an inn!





We saw one last Christmas Festival on Christmas Eve. It was a Calenda or parade. For this calenda, church members decorate floats or vehicles and children, adults, animals, gigantes or monos de Calenda (large paper mȃchè puppets powered by humans) parade around the Zocalo before turning toward their churches for midnight mass. The procession is accompanied by music. My favorite group was Barrio de Jalatlaco--they had so much enthusiasm.





Mary carrying a super radiant Baby Jesus

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