Tag Archives: celebrations

Rosa and Abraham Get Married: Wedding Ceremony in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Chapter II: The Wedding Ceremony, Saturday Afternoon, August 1, 2015

Almost every seat was filled and people were standing in the back of the small, simple Iglesia de Dios in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico, waiting for the wedding of Rosa and Abraham to begin.

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They were waiting for Rosa to appear on the arm of her escort in her white gown, the vision of beauty that all brides convey on their wedding day.

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We all love this moment, which reminds us of the promise of new life together, where dreams can be realized with that special someone we have chosen to be with now and forever. Abraham stood on the dais ready to greet her, serious and probably nervous, like most grooms around the world. His parents escorted him there, hugged him, gave him a private message of well-being and returned to their seats.

Abraham’s uncle welcomed the guests to the church.

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Rosa’s parents couldn’t be with us because her dad is suffering from acute diabetes, so a good friend stepped in to escort her down the aisle.

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A band of young instrumentalists played guitar, drums and electric keyboard to the soprano voice of a young woman who captured our attention, gave us pause to reflect about the union we would witness.

The wedding ceremony included and prayer, a hominy given by a pastor who came from Cuernavaca, and rituals familiar to most marriage ceremonies around the world, with the sharing of rings, joining of hands, kisses, tears, laughter, relief and celebration.

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During the ceremony, the pastor acknowledged the absence of Rosa’s parents and Rosa thanked them publicly for their love and support. There were many emotional moments when they were mentioned and missed.

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You may notice that the church décor is simple, without the gilded religious symbolism that is so widespread in Mexico, sometimes equal to Spanish cathedrals. With the Spanish conquest came the priests and the will to construct glorious edifices.

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Conquest and conversion go hand-in-hand with human history as people act out “my god is better than your god.”

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This look, on the right, says it all. Wow, we did it!

I’m not exactly certain, but this may be one of two or three Christian churches in the village that seem to co-exist side-by-side with the Catholic majority, with respect and brotherhood. Many have the same family roots that go deep.


After the ceremony, we lingered in the church courtyard to congratulate the bride and groom, and offer salutations of congratulations. Everyone waited in the hot sun to greet these two wonderful young people with strong values who love each other and are committed to building a life together.


It was an exceptionally beautiful Teotitlan del Valle summer day, with big puffy white clouds against an iridescent blue sky. It was shimmering and hot. Adults and children ran to the ice cream cart out front for a cooling refreshment as others waited in the receiving line.


The afternoon sun cast strong shadows and even with Lightroom correction, the photos have some glare – please forgive me! But this will give you the idea of this wonderfully happy occasion.


Abraham and Rosa, with brother, dad, mom and sister-in-law

Congratulations, Rosa and Abraham! Let the party begin. Next Chapter, the fiesta.

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Some Footnotes

  1. As is tradition here, the groom and his family fund the entire cost of the wedding, including the bride’s dress. The bride comes to live with her husband and his family in their home, often joining an extended family of siblings, spouses and children.
  2. There are Protestant missionaries from the United States working in Mexico who represent many denominations. They are especially active in rural Oaxaca and Chiapas, where poverty, lack of access to education and health care are high.
  3. Some say the missionary movement in Mexico contributes to the erosion of indigenous culture and religious values. Others say it keeps families intact by prohibiting alcohol use while offering a more emotional connection. A positive by-product is a reduction in family violence, usually stress related.
  4. It takes me about 6 hours to prepare the photos and write the narrative for a blog post like this, plus dealing with really poor internet connections, which I why I’m now down to publishing once or twice a week!

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As you read this, please keep in mind that I am an observer, not an academic scholar. There are many academics who have researched and written widely about the topics mentioned here. And, because I was not born into this culture, I am not privy to all the nuances that permeate and underlie relationships. I do know that by suspending judgment and being open to all possibilities, while supporting people to reach their greatest dreams, my life is enriched.

Photography Workshop in Chiapas, Mexico–January 2016




Day of the Dead, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca: Gate to Heaven Closed on Sunday

In Teotitlan del Valle, loved ones who come back to visit their families from the great beyond on Day of the Dead, usually arrive on November 1 and depart on November 2.  This year it’s different. They get an extra day on earth and leave on Monday, November 3.


Why? Because the gate to heaven is always closed on Sunday, explains a local as we sit next to him in the small cemetery chapel with his compadres.  They are waiting to receive thanks and blessings from community leaders who approach them and the altar with offerings of refreshment and a hand raised in salute.


The local man is one of the volunteer group that guards the cemetery, walking among the tombs to be certain that no souls, either living or dead, are in distress.


Again, I arrive early, ahead of the crowds, while there is still at least an hour of daylight remaining. The cemetery is brimming with lilies, marigolds, cocks comb, gladiolas.  The scent of copal mingles with wild marigold. Graves are cleaned, topped with fresh earth, quartered oranges, pecans, walnuts, apples.  There is an occasional bottle of unopened beer or mezcal atop each mound.


As the day fades, families arrive and light candles. Some unpack a picnic supper. Some sit quietly alone. Some are mother and son. Some are multi-generational. We meet young men on vacation from work in the United States to pay respects to their grandparents.  This is my village, one says in English. I was born here. 

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At least two bands are playing. The atonal sound of the younger group is endearing and seems to complement the duality of both this solemn and joyous occasion.

Portrait Photography Workshop coming up at the end of January 2015!

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Lots of people greet us, welcome us, invite us to join them in a sip of mezcal, offer us fresh oranges and beer. When I ask if I can take their photo, yes, is usually the answer. Where are you from? they ask. Carolina del Norte, I say. Welcome to Teotitlan del Valle, they say. I feel lucky to be among them.

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This year, it seems as if the village cemetery is especially vibrant with color.  I hear that Teotitlan del Valle wants to become a Pueblo Magico.  The paths are paved in the cemetery now, making it easier to move among the graves. The space is well-lit and tidy. It seems there are more flowers than ever before.

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Here, it is not like the Xoxocotlan extravaganza, and if you come expecting that, you will be sorely disappointed. Being here is a soothing, quiet, reflective and traditional experience.

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Why are there multiple crosses at the head of grave sites? Families have specific plots and every ten years a tomb can be reused for someone who has just passed. The bones of the antecedents are removed, cleaned and returned to the tomb alongside the next one to be buried there. It is not unusual to see three or four crosses planted one in front of the other representing the tomb’s occupants.

2014DOTDTeoti-23 And, of course, not only the dead get hungry! Vendors sit at the entrance with tasty snack foods. And, the band plays on.

2014DOTDTeoti-26My son is visiting from California. As we move together through the cemetery, we compare traditions here and in the United States, how we want our remains to be handled after death, periods of mourning, celebrations of life and the practice of laying markers. In Teotitlan a marker is placed on the tomb nine months after burial.

2014DOTDTeoti-25 2014DOTDTeoti-18Day of the Dead is an opportune time to talk about what is considered taboo and sad in our western culture. The celebration in Mexico is a religious syncretism of pre-Hispanic mystical tradition and Spanish Catholicism. It is unique and there is much to learn by participating.

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All Night Party Called Las Cuevitas

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.

Sunset at Las Cuevitas 2014

Sunset at Las Cuevitas 2014

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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On the hillsides, campfires burn, rockets shoot skyward, balloons and papel picado separate earth from sky.

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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.


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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.

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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!



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.

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And, don’t you agree, Omar’s smile is like a brilliant sunset!


Christmas Collage: Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Martha, Marianne, and Judy arrive from the city for dinner on December 23 and then we gather at the house of the eighth posada.  Earlier, I go to the local morning market and find a fish vendor from the coast.  We eat organic and fresh talapia, squash, potatoes, carrots, onions seasoned with kumquats, candied ginger, carrots, prunes, dates, and raisins all cooked together in the tagine.  Later, I use the head and bones for stock.

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The posadas continue through December 24, when baby Jesus appears on Christmas Eve at La Ultima Posada, the last posada, which is the grandest and most magnificent of all.

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On the street we meet a young woman and her mother who are originally from Teotitlan del Valle, and now live in Chicago.  She tells us she and her family put their name on the list to host La Ultima Posada ten years ago.  They will welcome baby Jesus in 2014.  The cost to host is about $50,000 USD, which includes a magnificent array of food for three days — enough to serve hundreds, two bands, drinks and refreshments, candles, lanterns, decorations.  She explains to us that it is an honor and a commitment to community and God to be able to do this. They meet with the church committee twice during the year to review details that will ensure a traditional celebration.  Service and community cohesiveness is essential for Zapotec life.  They have lived in this valley for 8,000 years.

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On December 24, I make a last minute run to the village market once more to discover it packed with shoppers and sellers at eight-thirty in the morning.  This is likely the biggest market of the year! Every one presses up to buy fresh moss and flowers from the Sierra Norte to make the creche that will bring baby Jesus to their home, too.

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There is fresh pineapple, bananas, papaya, mandarin oranges, apples, and spiced guayaba (guava). Lilies, roses, and flowering cactus lay on tables ready for plucking. Live chickens and turkeys, feet secure to keep them from flying away, lay subdued, waiting.

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Children hide under their mother’s aprons or eat fresh morning bread or sip a horchata. Who can resist the blue corn tortillas?  Not me.

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Piñatas are an integral part of the baby Jesus birthday celebration.  The market is filled with them on December 24.  Children adore the rain of candy.  Me, I adore the perfectly ripe avocados, organic lettuces and eggs.

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I bump into Janet and Jan, expats from France and Holland who winter here. They eat breakfast at the stand set up in the middle of the market, quesdadillas fresh off the griddle.

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Later, I join my family for the traditional dinner at eight.  Elsa brings homemade bacalhau, there is organic salad, roasted pork leg infused with bacon, garlic and prunes, pinto beans, with plenty of beer, mezcal and wine.  Dessert?  Why tiramisu cake from Quemen bakery, of course!

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Omar entertains Christian.  Lupita entertains Christian.  The children kick the soccer ball and jump on the piles of wool waiting for the loom.  We sip spiced ponche (hot fruit punch) made with guayaba fruit sweetened with sugar cane.  Some will go to the church for midnight mass.  Others will go on to aanother supper at midnight.

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Christmas day presents another dinner feast on Roberta’s terrace, this time a potluck with organic lettuces, Annie’s garden arugula, enchiladas with green salsa, roasted chicken, red wine, fruit salad and Susanna Trilling‘s Mexican Chocolate Bread Pudding that Jan prepares.  The patio is filled with flowering cactus and the sunset can’t be better.

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All is well with our world.  I hope your holiday season is spectacular, too.  Feliz Navidad! Gracias a todos.

XmasCollage-37              Our next photography workshop is this summer 2014 for Dance of the Feather.  Find out more!


Dance of the Little Old Men–Baile de Viejitos, Oaxaca

After a spectacular week of Semana Santa celebrations in Teotitlan del Valle, the village gathers for yet another tribute.  Dance of the Little Old Men, or Baile de Viejitos, begins on the Monday after Easter Sunday and goes for five continuous days.  It is an ancient pre-Hispanic Zapotec ritual centered around the way the community is organized and how well the voluntary leaders mete out justice and fairness.  The village leaders are assessed by each one of the five administrative sections of the village through an intricate process of information gathering, question asking, and feedback.



Each section has an opportunity to give feedback to the leaders through the men selected by each section to speak for them.  The men are dressed in disguise as elders, wise, strong, able to take a stand and tell the truth.  It is a power-leveling mechanism that is designed to humble the arrogant.

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Some call it Carnivale, like the pre-Lenten celebration, because there are masquerades and cross-dressing.  To the uninitiated, it looks like a springtime version of Halloween with costumed, dancing young boys.  They join the official masquers who accompany the Old Men as they act out their message through the dance and the tribute they pay to the leaders.  It is ceremonial and formal.

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And, it is fun.  There is excitement in the air.  The village gathers on stone steps that were once the foundation of a Zapotec temple.  The Municipio Building is ringed with folding chairs and behind them, vendors selling fresh-made fruit-flavored ices, cones stuffed with cream, do-nuts, and other sweets.  Another vendor sells steaming tamales seasoned with chipil. Parents buy bags of 5 peso popcorn for children to munch on.





The dance starts at 6 p.m. and goes well into the night.  All the leaders, starting with the president, dance in succession with the Viejitos representing the section.   The section representatives sit solemnly after they have presented their tribute — cartons of beer and mezcal.  Each section takes their turn — one section for each night.

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