Mexican Traditions — Semana Santa — Taxco Style

Boom, Boom, Boom       Boom, Boom, BoomBoomBoom                                             

That is the sound of Semana Santa, “holy week,” in Taxco de Alarcon, Guerrero, Mexico — a spectacle like no other. Probably one of the most revered of all celebrations in Mexico, Semana Santa, like many Mexican celebrations incorporates elements of pre-Hispanic cultures with Catholic traditions.

Starting on Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, with the traditional blessing of the palms, most houses, shops, taxis, and combis are adorned with woven palm frond crosses and other designs. For days ahead of time, indigenous people sit  in the shade of church domes and on the side of the calles, weaving simple and intricate patterns in the stiff grass.

The streets, especially the main cobblestone calle that winds through town and past my house, are filled with the devout, proudly parading their church icons to the zocolo downtown. With its 1500s colonial period whitewashed walls, red tile roofs, and cobblestone streets, Taxco has the  atmosphere of a medieval fair, minus the castle walls, with makeshift silver shops, souvenir and food stands popping up everywhere there is an empty room or a few feet of space.

Every night there is a procession or more than one. Don’t even think of heading downtown unless you are willing to walk the miles jostled by the crowd — no  vehicles of any kind are allowed, not even taxis or combis.

On Monday, it is the procession of the virgins. Every church for miles, and there are a lot of them, bring their statutes to town and hand carry them on a bier, the mile or so from the edge of town to the center. The icon bearers are surrounded by candle holders, incense bearers, little children dressed as angels, girls dressed in white (think communion outfits), and a host of other helpers.  And let’s not forget those drummers and the occasional fiddler playing a tune that sounds oddly Celtic. The groups seem to be spaced out about every 30-40 minutes, so with my bedroom facing the action, just about the time I think it is safe to go to sleep, down the street another group comes with its boom, boom, boom cadence.

Tuesday, the observances that have been happening throughout the Lenten period, take on special significance. The street is quiet, but the churches are alive with people and their traditions of the season.

Wednesday, there is a special mass representing the disciples abandonment of Jesus and a procession of “lesser saints” — Cecelia, Joseph, and others are paraded through town.

Then, Maunday Thursday arrives and it is chaos everywhere, in preparation for the biggest procession of all.  Starting about 1 pm the contingents from out of town arrive. Cars, open pickup trucks, and huge dump trucks, filled with parishioners hooting and hollering, roll into town honking that same solemn cadence.  There was even a group on motorcycles and sometimes groups come on horseback or bicycle.

People line the streets and throw buckets of water on the people in the trucks. The opposite of an American parade where the people in the vehicles throw candy to the spectators.

The night culminates with the most solemn procession of all — that of the penitents. Dressed in black robes, a horse hair belt, and their faces covered by a hood to conceal their identity, they gather along with their own entourage of young children dressed as angels, older girls barefoot and dressed in white dresses and veils, and an assortment of assistants. Of course, their patron saint is carried along for blessing.

Taxco appears to be one of the last remaining places where the three brotherhoods, the Animas (or Bent Ones), the Encruzados (the crossed), and the Flagelantes (Flagellants) reenact events from Jesus’ last day on earth in such a strict fashion.

Animas (the Bent Ones), Taxco de Alarcon, Mexico

The Bent Ones, walk bent over with chains around their ankles and candles or small crosses in their hands. This being the only group that accepts women, you will often see a nunnery of penitents walking as a group.

Flagelante, Taxco de Alarcon, Mexico

The Flagelantes carry a rosary and  a 6-7 foot wooden cross, representative of Jesus’ final walk to Gogotha. When the procession stops, they hand off their cross, kneel, and whip their bare backs causing blood to flow. Most gruesome.

Encruzado, Taxco de Alarcon, Mexico

Then, there are the Encruzados who carry rolls of blackberry thorns, weighing up to 100 pounds, across their back and shoulders on outstretched arms (some sort of variation of the crown of thorns?) they might also carry a cross, rosary or candles in their hands.

On Good Friday,in the gold adorned Santa Prisca church, the praying statue of Jesus is mock captured, jailed, and crucified before the penitents. This is followed by another procession.

Saturday night they hold a candlelight vigil until midnight when it is announced that Christ has risen and then all is quiet.

A native told me, the first year I was here, that I had to “see the show” at least once. I have to say this much, it is an interesting show even if it keeps me awake all night most of the week.

Since I have a little computer issue I am going to link you to slide show from last year.

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Mexican Traditions – Dancing Kings

The civil “Flag Day” ceremonies over, the afternoon was quiet, then as the sun just started to drop behind the mountain, some merry music made its way closer to my door. I looked out just in time to see the dancing kings entourage go by.

Apparently, as they do during Navidad and Las Posadas, each church in town takes a turn hosting a special Lenten event. Tonight, the Ex-Convento took their statues of Mary and Jesus out of the church and paraded them through town, to the accompaniment of merry music and dancing kings.

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I wonder how the dancers in their heavy costumes and full face masks, and the musicians too, manage to keep this merry pace up for over a mile all the way through town. They wear me out just watching them skip and dance down the street.

As the sun began to drop behind the mountain,  the music paused at the local church where airworks and church bells filled the air. Then the music and festivities began anew culminating in some beautiful fireworks, the real thing this time, with fire.

Oooh, ahhhh!

It appears that in addition to the marching bands and celebrations on all the Fridays of Lent, I have a first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth Tuesday to look forward to as well.

 

Mexican Traditions — First Friday

This morning I was awakened before dawn by airworks – those booming cannon shot sounding fireworks (with no fire.) They continued throughout the day culminating in special church services, bandas parading through the streets, people singing, jumping into fountains, and other festivities.

Street band, Taxco de Alarcon, MexicoWhen I asked why, the only answer I would get is, “First Friday,” like I should know what that means. Since I am not Catholic and the only thing I know about Lenten traditions is that it is a time of penance, that follows the all out debauchery that is Carnival/Mardi Gras, and lasts from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, I decided it was a good time to find out.

In Mexico, the word for Lent is Cuaresma, which comes from the word for 40 representing the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness. With Mexico being one of the most Catholic countries in the world, Lenten observances are an important part of the culture, filled with solemn observances, processions, and merriment. It is a time of church and family activities, sobriety and abstinence, with most Mexicans giving up eating meat on Fridays.

So what is this First Friday all about? On the first Friday after Ash Wednesday,  processions of “The Lord of Mercy” goes through the main streets of town, imploring mercy for sins. Rag tag bands of all sorts, wander the streets, which usually attract more of a Pied Piper following than any kind of solemn observance.

Street band, Taxco, MexicoMy first year here, before I knew about First Friday and all the other Fridays that follow, I was told that the bands were to remind people that it was a holy time, which was really amusing considering they came marching over the hill playing Roll Out the Barrel, a quintessential drinking song.

I now know that each Friday from now until Easter I will be awakened with airworks and serenaded to sleep by brass bands, each marking a special observance such as Dia de la Samaritana or Viernes de Dolores, the Friday of Sorrows, observed on the last Friday before Easter week in recognition of Mary’s loss of her son. All of this leads up to the influx of thousands of penitents and onlookers for Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Taxco.

Holy Week in Taxco de Alaracon, MexicoEnough of a lesson for now. More later. Or visit the GoMexico Website.