One of the last events of Semana Santa in San Miguel de Allende is called The Burning of the Judas. A number of pinata looking effigies are packed with crackers and strung up in the Jardin before being blown up. Burning of the Judas is an Easter ritual in many Catholic communities were an effigy of Jusas Iscariot is burned. I look at these sorts of events through a more cultural and anthropological lens rather than religious.
It’s kind of like the Mexican version of Guy Fawkes Day which is celebrated in the UK on 5th November. A ‘Guy’ is usually made up of flamable materials and burnt on top of a big bonfire symbolising the day Guy Fawkes failed to blow up the Houses of Parliament on 5th November 1605.
In many parts of Latin America this practice occurs on the eve of the new year as a symbol of ridding one’s self of evil and beginning a new year in spiritual purity. Some communities observe this ritual using various effigies, including the biblical Judas (who betrayed Jesus). This custom, during which the effigy is burned on a stake, is invariably called “Quema del Año Viejo” meaning literally “the burning of the old year.” – Wikipedia
The effigies are usually depictions of people locals most think deserve to be blown up and in the spirit of the current election year in the USA, it will come as no surprise that Donald Trump had the honour yesterday! Trump’s views on Mexico and Mexican people are – as most people kn0w – unfounded and deeply offensive – not only to Mexicans but to all of us who love this spectacular country. And in making light of the situation, Trump was blown up to great applause yesterday.
What I find interesting is that the majority of people who turned out to watch the spectacle yesterday were not Mexican – I’d say most were American. And, as you’ll see in this video, Trump’s demise got the loudest cheers! This ritual took place in hundreds of towns all over Mexico over the weekend and this morning the Mexican media were quick to point out that Trump was burned at nearly every one!
Will this send him a message?! Maybe not but it made us feel a little better!
It’s no secret that I love to entertain and hold dinner parties. Since we’ve been here in SMA we’ve had quite a few and been to others – this being such a sociable town!
For me, cooking for others is one of my favourite things and I love taking time to plan what we’re going to eat – sometimes trying on new ingredients indigenous to Mexico such as cactus paddles (LOVE!).
With it being Semana Santa we had our best friends Susan & Larry, Joseph and Eduardo over for a feast this evening. I made beef brisket for the first time – the meat didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped, but the gravy, veggies and yorkshire puds were a hit.
Cooking at altitude can be challenging at times and it’s necessary to adjust recipes. In fact, I rarely cook using a recipe but when it comes to baking at 6,500ft above sea level – I’m learning to read up! I found a great recipe for Yorkshire puddings and they turned out beautifully – phew! I’ll be making these again!
One of these days I’m going to take a few more local cooking classes and learn the old ways of Mexican cooking – so simple and yet SO good.
In slowing down, I’m noticing how much more of our environment I’m learning to appreciate – in particular, the sounds of Mexico.
Just sitting here at my desk today I can hear the tap tap tap of the worker chiseling away on the building down in the valley beneath us. Sometimes the sound is broken by a passing vehicle going over the cobbly terrain…sometimes Larry’s fabulous Harley motorbike booms up the street – always a good sign.
The local mounted police (yes we have mounted police here) keep their horses just up the hill from us but daily we hear the clip clop of their hooves as they descend down the hill. We’ve also worked out that Zack the dog really doesn’t like the sound of horse hooves and we know when they’re coming as he’ll start barking! As an aside – earlier this week I was driving up the hill out of town to run an errand as the mounted police were coming down the hill…I stopped to let them pass and one of the group lent down, tipped his hat and said thank you….see, folks here are ever so polite and respectful.
Other sounds include the near constant barks of local dogs – near and far. When we moved in the tenant in the apartment below us sadly left his dog at home while he went on holiday for several weeks. The poor thing was locked up most of the day going stir crazy and barking…until he lost his bark. Those were the barking sounds we didn’t like much – but most of the time it doesn’t phase us.
Mexicans love any excuse to let off fireworks – day and night. Last weekend we made the mistake of taking Zack with us to watch the Palm Sunday parade downtown. Every minute fireworks were let off from the roof of the Parroquia and poor Zack was one unhappy dog. The poor thing really didn’t like the loud bangs and took to hiding behind us – sandwiched on a step and shaking. Realising what we’d done, we retreated as soon as possible.
There are at least 15 churches in San Miguel de Allende and I think they pretty much all have bells. I love hearing the bells ring out on special days or for services – and sometimes it feels as if the sound bounces off the buildings on the other side of the valley from us and back – almost vibrating!
I don’t think we live anywhere near the railroad that passes on the other side of town but I swear that I’m sometimes stirred from an early morning slumber by the sound of a train honking!
And finally, Mexicans – young and old – know how to party, how to embrace the joy of life and suck every last bit out of it. We’ll often hear tequila fueled parties and dancing going on nearby well into the morning at weekends. Sometimes people are serenaded by one of the many mariachi bands in town. It’s wonderfully evocative!
Can you tell….we’re falling in love with Mexico!
One of the things I’m loving about our life here in San Miguel de Allende is how easy it is to make friends. We meet new folks while out walking daily – some we may not see again, others we’re getting to know better. Many people here are – like us – transplants to the area and I guess they’re looking to make new friends and acquaintances too. With that in mind, I do think people here are a little more open than back home. We have met people from all walks of life and their stories of heritage and their lives never cease to intrigue me. The common thread that we share is a love and curiosity for San Miguel de Allende. Moreover, people take time to stop and talk rather than feeling rushed to get to the next thing!
Back in the UK we struggled to make new friends in our hometown. Perhaps it was because we worked so hard while we were there that we were never able to socialise much beyond time out with family and a handful of friends at weekends. I’ve lived in so many places and gathered friends wherever I’ve been so most of my friends are scattered all over the world – thank goodness technology enables us to keep in touch.
This afternoon I spent a few hours out in the countryside with our great friend Susan who introduced me to a wonderful new friend who – like us – is a transplant here with a fabulous life story. Just sitting on her terrace visiting together for a few hours was utter bliss. The conversation flowed and I loved looking out over her beautiful garden…full of hummingbirds feeding from the nectar feeders scattered around the property. Believe it or not, these are experiences that were relatively rare for us in our old life.
I’m in awe of how Matt has been embracing our new life here. Going from decades of a desk job, to being at home most of the time has been challenging. But he’s learning to embrace a new normal and venture out more. I love that he has a small group of friends he gets together with every morning to walk down to the Jardin with Zack (the dog!) for coffee and cinnamon buns. The ritual enables him to meet more people on his way and see unexplored parts of town while I’m working.
And he is LOVING learning Spanish too! The Ash family are true linguists with a superb grasp of grammar which has helped him to pick up Spanish far quicker than me. Over the past few weeks he’s been doing a Spanish immersion class and looks forward to doing the next level later in the year. Time for me to get my Spanish skates on and get learning too!
Their was an air of celebration as we walked down to the Jardin this morning to watch one of several Palm Sunday parades here in town. Even though Semana Santa celebrations have been taking place all week, today marks the official start of this special time of year here in Mexico. Palm Sunday celebrates Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. Never having taken much notice of these sorts of festivals in the past, I was curious to see how Palm Sunday is honoured here.
Mexicans and gringoes alike wandered the streets holding palm fonds woven into lots of different shapes – hearts, fans, curcifixes – from the small to the very large. Some people adorn theirs with purple ribbons, chamomile and other herbs such as rosemary.
We grabbed a pirch on the pavement at corner of the street as the parade route would come into the main Jardin before going into Mass. Zack the dog is with us again for a few days and garnered lots of attention…not least from a really sweet disabled woman who was sitting on the pavement clutching a palm shield waiting for the parade. She adored Zack and at one point lent over to give him a massive cuddle and let out a squeal of delight. Zack was so patient…and she rewarded him with a bite of her doughnut (oops!).
One of the things I love about this town is how easy it is to meet people and make friends. This morning we were talking to a couple of women who were patiently waiting nearby us and we ended up trading details and plan on getting together again soon. And again, after the parade, we went for lunch at one of our favourite cafes and ended up sharing a table with a wonderful woman from Montreal and enjoyed visiting together. People here have a sense of openness and curiosity that was hard for us to find in our community back home. This is one of the biggest reasons why we continue to marvel in our lives here!
The parade began at another local jardin and then walked through the town to the Parroquia where a Mass was to take place later. Families, local church dignitaries, community groups and bands paraded through the streets, each person clutching a palm.
At the head of the parade a priest was anointing the crowds with water – thrown from a bunch of fresh chamomile that he dipped in a bucket of water each time. The colours of chamomile plants are thought to represent humility (green) and beauty in body and soul (yellow). Songs were sung and a drumming group and another guitar group walked with the crowd while the usual fireworks were let off over our heads (poor Zack didn’t like the loud bangs at all!).
The back of the main crowd of worshippers was ferried forward by a statue of Jesus on a donkey which was being carried on a flower adorned plinth towards the church – it’s final resting place for the day. The colours and sounds of the parade are what will stay with me for sometime. And the music and fireworks have not stopped all day…we can literally hear all the celebrations from here at home! The celebrations will continue throughout the week!
One of the most revered celebrations of Semana Santa in San Miguel de Allende is the Friday of Sorrows – Viernes de Dolores. This event always takes place on the last Friday of lent when the Virgin of Sorrows is celebrated and honoured with altars set up in homes throughout the town. In doorways, courtyards, patios and windowsills.
The day is a way of honouring Mary – the mother of Christ – as she sat at the foot of the cross watching her son die and it ushers in the main events of Semana Santa. The custom dates back hundreds of years back to Spanish colonial times but is also unique to the State of Guanajuato which is why it’s so special here in San Miguel de Allende.
The altars colours and elements carry great symbolism to Catholic worshippers. The white altar cloth represents the purity of the Virgin Mary. The colour purple signifies pain and penitence and colours of fresh chamomile flowers signify humility (green) and beautify in body and soul (yellow).
It’s Semana Santa here in Mexico – Easter Week. This is one of the most important events on the Mexican calendar and is taken very seriously regardless of faith.
Apparently San Miguel is one of the best towns in Mexico to come and celebrate and honour this holiday. Easter week is more like two weeks here which began last Saturday with a procession from Altotonilco to San Miguel. The beautiful Santuario de Atotonilco church (about 4 miles from SMA) is home to a much beloved statue, El Señor de la Columna, “Our Lord of the Column.” The beginning of Easter celebrations begin when the Column is paraded into town and takes up residence at San Juan de Dios Church where people come to honour the statue over the next two weeks.
At midnight last Saturday evening a procession of thousands of people carried the figure of a bloodied and beaten Christ to San Miguel. The statue is crafted from traditional Chichimeca materials (stalks of corn, corn starch and ground orchid bulbs). Christ is see leaning agains a column for support and wears a loincloth. Hundreds of local women place silk scarves on the body for the procession and then afterwards they will be removed and used for other ceremonies later in the year. As the group of pilgrims winds its way towards SMA they would have stopped to pray and sing hymns. Their arrival in town would have been marked with the deafening ring of church bells…and of course many fireworks as is usual here in Mexico!
A few days ago Susan and I went to pick up Matt from Spanish class which takes place in a building opposite the church so we popped our heads through the door and observed a service honouring the Lord of the Column. I’m always curious about observing these sorts of traditions from a cultural point of view and it adds so much to this already vibrant and colourful place.
There seem to be celebrations taking place daily. Yesterday many local children dressed up in costumes and paraded through the town centre to mark the first day of Spring…super cute.
However, the town is also heaving with people visiting from all over the world this week. It’s hard to move in a car on the outskirts of town with near gridlocked traffic…and the same with pedestrian traffic in the town centre! Clearly we’ve moved to a popular place and we love it!
Semana Santa celebrations conclude next Sunday afternoon with the Burning of the Judas’….watch this space for photos!