So it’s the Christmas holiday season here in Mexico, and it is so totally different from the holidays back “home”. In the US, Christmas (seems to) begins on Black Friday with crushing crowds congregating at local malls in order to “buy, buy, buy.” This consumerism continues until after the actual date of December 25, as that is when the “after Christmas sales” start.
Mexico, on the other hand, begins its season in early December, with celebrations that honor the patron saint of Mexico, the Virgin of Guadalupe, a powerful symbol of Mexico who plays a huge role in the country’s political and religious history. According to John Moran Gonzales, “our Lady is seen as the champion of the underdog, of the Indian, of all those who lack power in society.” Christmas festivities continue until Three King’s Day on Jan.6, the day the children (in most regions of Mexico) receive gifts. The primary focus of the holiday is on the nacimiento, or nativity scene, seen on display in every town square, although the Christmas tree is a fairly recent addition to the decorations in many towns.
Now I’ll admit, I haven’t been in large cities in Mexico for the holidays, but rather small towns wherever our boat is anchored or docked. This year, El Gato happens to be docked in the marina just across the bay from the small town of Barra de Navidad. (Christmas sandbar in English).
Barra, as it is affectionately known, is a farming and fishing community of about 7,000 people. It is located on the western coastline of the Mexican state of Jalisco, on the stretch of land referred to as “Costa Alegre”, or the happy coast. And happy it is. Mexico, in general, is a delightful country, where strangers pass with a cheerful “Buenos Dias” (or Buenos Tardes or Noches, depending on the time of day.) If there are three of us walking together, most of the time each of us will get our own greeting.
We were here last January/February for a few weeks, and when we returned this year, we were recognized and warmly greeted by many local shopkeepers and water-taxi operators.
Since the marina is located at the Grand Isla Resort, it is necessary to hail a water taxi on our VHF radio for the 5-minute ride to town. It’ll set you back 30 pesos (about $1.50) for a round trip ticket.
So, in order to kick off the Christmas season here, my friend Nancy (captain of s/v Aldabra) and her crew, Sonja, and I caught the water taxi and a local bus to the nearby town of Cihuatlan for the final day of the festival of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12th. We heard there would be a parade. Boy Howdy– I Love a Parade!! And what a parade it was!!
Arriving at the bus station, we just followed the crowds before finding a fine spot on the sidewalk to watch the parade. The locals seemed interested that three gringa chicks had come to observe, and I only saw maybe one or two other gringos there.
The majority of marchers were dressed in various indigenous costumes, representing different tribes and cultures within Mexico. Drummers were interspersed among the dancers, whose steps were perfectly choreographed, even though they only practiced for one month prior to the festival.
In between the different groups of performers were several groups of what I can only call “the troublemakers”, dressed in truly freakish costumes, faces always covered in a mask, with loud noisemakers, running haphazardly along the street. They darted in and out of the choreographed groups, often stopping to pose for pictures. Creepy, bizarro-world stuff.
Towards the end of the parade, which lasted almost two hours, the banana floats passed by very slowly, handing out large bunches of bananas (which are grown here). When the parade is over, masses of people go to the church or homes of friends and feast for the entire night. We agreed that we were on sensory overload, and caught the bus back to Barra, where we tried our best to decipher the significance and symbolism of this Crazy, Bizarre, Fabulous event we had just witnessed.