Seven years ago I wrote one of my first blog posts called Sunset at Las Cuevitas. Las Cuevitas is an annual Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico tradition that draws the entire pueblo to the caves up in the grassy, nopal cactus dotted hills beyond the village. Festivities start on the night of December 31 and continue through November 3.
This is a rocky, sacred pre-Hispanic ritual site now holds a small chapel. Three three niches form altars where offerings are made and prayers are whispered. Families come to sleep in the open air or under tarps held high by poles or pitch tents. Others come for the day and stay well into the night, bringing chairs, blankets and picnic baskets. Vendors sell all types of snacks and food lest you come or get hungry: sugar wafers, just made French fries drizzled with chili salsa, tamales, even donuts.
As the sun begins to set, the warm afternoon turns to chill. Women wrap themselves in wool shawls or put on sweaters and bundle up their children. Men wear jackets and baseball caps. The line to enter the grotto snakes down the dusty path lined with sellers of hand-embroidered tortilla covers, copper bracelets for good health, and quesadillas made on wood-fired comals.
The mood is festive. At five in the afternoon an outdoor mass begins at the grotto. Then the band plays. We sit on the hillside and watch pre-teen boys strike matches to light sparklers and fire balls, while others construct rock houses and make roofs of twigs and dried grass. Everyone is eating something.
Today the new president begins his three-year term, a voluntary and elected position. The newly initiated volunteer police force that starts their one-year service term today are present to keep the peace, more symbol than necessity.
On the hillsides, campfires burn, rockets shoot skyward, balloons and papel picado separate earth from sky.
As we approach the grotto to add our candles, prayers, and offerings, I see that we are in the perfect spot for the upcoming fireworks display, a perfect ending to my perfect day in southern Mexico. The celebration will continue through the night, all day and night on January 2, and end on January 3. Good things come in three’s here.
NOW FOR THE FIREWORKS
I was so close, I had to stay out of the raining hot cinders. The cracking sounds were deafening. It was an amazing spectacle to see a man dancing, holding a cow above his head spewing circles of light. TheN two men followed holding female figures high as the fireworks circled and the crowd was mesmerized. The band played on.
Next? That brings us up to Day of the Three Kings, January 6, when we will find the markets filled with round holiday breads infused with candied fruits and several little plastic baby Jesus figures. The bread is called rosca de reyes, and Mexican children will receive their Christmas gifts on this day. Whoever gets the baby Jesus is obligated to host a tamale party on February 2, Dia de la Candelaria, the last event associated with Christmas.
May the party continue!
MORE SUNSETS ANYONE?
There were fewer than ten extranjeros (foreigners) in the crowd. Most of us who were there are connected to local families and live on their land or rent from them. Las Cuevitas is probably the closest thing I can think of to July 4th as a family day of picnicking, partying, and enjoying life.
And, don’t you agree, Omar’s smile is like a brilliant sunset!