Tag Archives: celebrations

Handmade Basket Fair, San Juan Guelavia, January 31-February 7, 2016

Each year, the traditional Zapotec village of San Juan Guelavia showcases its handmade baskets made from strips of river reed, called carrizo in Spanish. (Thanks, Christopher Hodge for this tidbit of clarification. Carrizo is not bamboo!) This is another artisanal weaving tradition in the Tlacolula valley. If you are on your way to the Tlacolula market this Sunday, making a stop off the Pan-American Highway-MEX 190 is well-worth your time to explore the 5th Annual Basket Fair or Feria del Carrizo. 

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You might even want to stay awhile. The food is delicious. This is homemade, home-cooked food done with local flair. Barbecue, quesadillas, roasted chicken, tortillas made on the comal griddle, atole and mezcal tasting makes this a very special event.  There are even mezcal bottles (empty) covered in basketry.

And, you’ll drive along a beautiful curving road lined with maturing agave fields to get there.

The handmade baskets take center stage. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some are plain, coarse and used as storage containers. Others are finely woven and decorated with mini-baskets, which the local Zapotec ladies love for gathering fresh food at the daily markets. Last year there were bamboo fish traps, lamp bases, bird cages, floor mats, and also very pretty flowers made from corn husks. I love these baskets to use around the house for storage and to give as house gifts filled with fresh fruit. The handles are wrapped in palm leaves.

This basket making from San Juan Guelavia is a long-standing tradition. Help preserve it. The way of the world is giving over to plastic and we have a chance to make a difference and buy directly from the makers — usually the generation of grandfathers and grandmothers who are trying to keep the tradition alive.

But to do that, we know that there has to be customers!

San Juan Guelavia is just before you get to Teotitlan del Valle on the right (west) side of the Carretera Nacional as you are heading toward Tlacolula from Oaxaca city. Enjoy. Maybe I’ll see you there!

 

 

Let the Posadas Begin: Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

The Christmas season is upon us in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico. Each morning I wake to the sound of the cojetes — the firecrackers — going off at six o’clock. They continue through the day and well into the evening.

Copal incense and flowers, Teotitlan del Valle posada 

This is a signal that Mary, Joseph and Jesus are traveling to Bethlehem and are resting overnight in the altar room of a local host.  Each evening around seven the posada (procession) will carry the trio to the next home, until the last posada on Christmas Eve, December 24.

Christmas Day Fiesta Meal

Christmas Day Fiesta Meal with Mole Amarillo, a Teotitlan tradition

If you haven’t experienced a village posada, this is the place to be. Book at room at Las Granadas B&B or at Casa Elena B&B.  You will be welcomed as a guest into the home of each of the posada hosts, I’m certain.

Handmade beeswax candles, a key part of the posada

Handmade beeswax candles, a key part of the posada

The last posada, La Ultima Posada, is the grandest celebration of the week. But at all resting places, there will be food, celebration, drink and firecrackers well into the night.

Street corner altar, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Street corner altar, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

This morning the church bells chimed. Last night, I could hear the band playing in the distance. Each of the administrative sections of the village hosts a posada and asks a resident of that area to be the mayordomo. After all, it’s a birthday party for Jesus! It’s a fascinating introduction into Zapotec life in Oaxaca.

Yarn drying on rooftop, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Yarn drying on rooftop, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

NOW FOR THE FIREWORKS

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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!

MORE SUNSETS ANYONE?

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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!