Tag Archives: Christmas

Rosca de Reyes and Three Kings Day in Oaxaca

Here in Oaxaca the tradition is to celebrate Three Kings Day, Dia de los Reyes, January 6, with gift-giving to the children. Godparents visit the homes of godchildren, godchildren come to the homes of godparents.

Rosca de Reyes topped with candied fruits, stuffed with plastic Baby Jesus

They will present a Rosca de Reyes,  that translates to wreath of the kings. They sit down to a cup of steaming, frothy hot chocolate, locally made, tear off a piece of Rosca, dunk, sip and eat.

Hard to tell what’s under wraps here.

Surprise, the sweet egg bread covered in candied fruit, is stuffed with little plastic Baby Jesus dolls. Whomever gets one in their piece of bread gets to host the Candlemas party on February 2, forty days after Jesus’ birthday. There will be a lot of parties around here. The dolls are plentiful. Forty is a magic number.

A gift-wrapped Rosca de Reyes, Mexico’s colors

Is this Mexican Christmas? Three Kings Day occurs twelve days after December 25, when the astronomers, called Magi, gave gifts to honor the birth of Jesus.

A stack of Rosca de Reyes, simpler version, still yummy.

Mexico has an amazing cycle of festivals occurring with regularity around the calendar, moving from one season to the next, opening and closing Christmas, moving into the Easter season with Lent and Carnival. It seems that there is not a week of respite here.

Another version of Rosca de Reyes, topped with a sugar dough crust

This is a country of celebration.

Today in the Teotitlan del Valle market, bakers of Rosca de Reyes proudly displayed their artisanry. They came from here, from Tlacolula and from Santo Domingo near Tule. Some gave out samples to lure customers. It worked for me.

By 10:30 a.m. almost all the Rosca’s were sold out and bakers folded up their tablecloths. The best, made with egg bread, called pan de yema, went first.

Selling Rosca de Reyes in the Teotitlan del Valle market. This is a BIG ONE.

The bread makes a great gift, if I don’t eat it all! And at 30 pesos each for a small one, it’s a real value. That’s about $1.50 USD for handmade edibles.

Tortilla sellers in the open air Teotitlan market

Toy and clothing sellers filled the market, too. Many were families visiting from the USA who bring things to sell to help cover their travel expenses.

Berta selling ingredients for Sopa de Guias

Sopa de guias, squash vine, squash blossom, squash and corn soup, is a specialty this time of year, too. All the ingredients are available at various stalls.

Fresh greens are an essential part of the diet here.

Some of the ladies bring their produce from the town of Benito Juarez, high on the mountain about an hour from here. They lay out their blankets, top them with produce, and sit, shucking corn and cutting vines.

Teotitlan del Valle Iglesia Preciosa Sangre de Cristo

It’s warm here now. Daytime temperatures are in the low 70’s Fahrenheit, and it dips down to about 48 degrees at night. Skies are clear blue. It’s a perfect place to be in winter. Please visit us.

 

 

 

Christmas Posadas in Teotitlan del Valle, Nine Days of Awe

Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico celebrates the winter holiday with a posada on nine nights before Christmas Day, starting on December 15. Starting yesterday afternoon and going into the night, I participated with a small group of visitors from the USA, Canada and Ireland interested in joining me to explore the history, culture and traditions of this Zapotec-Catholic practice, rooted in Spanish-European practice.

Entering the house where Mary and Joseph will rest, December 22-23

Posada means inn or we might know it better as a roadside tavern where weary travelers take rest for the night. The story of Mary and Joseph as they make their way from Nazareth to Jerusalem to pay the Roman tax is well-known. They find a stable for animals to sleep in on December 24 in Bethlehem when the inn is full. This is where Jesus is born.

The altar room at the December 21-22 Posada

Here in Teotitlan del Valle it is a little more complex, a mix of spiritual seriousness and long-held ceremony.

I went in advance to ask permission of two host families that sponsored the posada on December 22 — the home where Mary and Joseph were brought on the night of December 21 and the home where they would be carried to on the night of December 22.

Procession leaving one house for another

Only family members are usually invited inside the home, although all of us in the village can take part in the candlelight walk when the religious figures are carried from one house to the next.

Piñatas celebrate birthdays, and this one is no exception

There is a posada today and the last one is tomorrow, December 24. The host family for the night of December 24 will go with the Church Committee to the December 23 host and ask for blessings. A string of fragrant jasmine flowers is placed on the litter that carries Mary and Joseph to their next resting place by the head of the village religious committee.

Making the transition from one house to the next, symbolic

This is also symbolic of a smooth transition, expressing care and trust. There is ritual around community trust here that is essential to village survival and well-being. It is not written by codified by behavior over thousands of years.

Church altar boys guide the way with lanterns

You might think the Posada is a purely Catholic tradition inherited from Spaniards, but it incorporates the Zapotec practice of Guelaguetza. This is NOT the July folkloric dance so popular in Oaxaca. It is a way of community and family support to ensure survival and to meet needs and obligations.

Reindeer dancing from rooftops in 60 degree F. weather

The Posada is also adapting to contemporary lifestyles and mass communications. Blinking reindeer dance from rooftops here and blue icicles drip from roof lines. Frosty the snowman has a red nose that glows. Imagines of snowflakes are projected on adobe walls. The United States of America has infiltrated traditional culture.

Icicles aglow illuminate the cobblestone street

We are seamless, we are universal, we are adapting. One Posada host family has a daughter living in Switzerland with her Swiss husband and two children. Another Posada host family lives in Moorpark, California, but maintains strong cultural ties to Teotitlan del Valle, where university educated children return regularly to visit grandparents and maintain their heritage.

It takes a village (of family members) to cook, wash, clean, serve

Our group talked with Pedro Montaño about how Christmas has changed in Teotitlan, comparing current practices and the more simple approach of a generation ago, when the crèche assembled with homemade wood figures, forest grasses and moss from the Sierra Juarez mountains nearby.

Learning about posada history from Pedro Montaño

Then, piñatas were filled with fruit and candles were carried to light the path since there was no electricity.

There is no judgment here. Only observation. There is plenty we can observe about traditional practices around the world and how they have changed as people have more disposable income and television teaches and creates aspirations.

Firecrackers and the band draw people out along the way

I always like to ask: What is authenticity? To change and adapt is part of the human experience. To expect that people keep their “authentic” practices is, IMHO, a colonial approach to saying, it’s okay for us to change but let’s keep them the way they are because it’s far more interesting for us.

Getting ready to carry Mary and Joseph to their next posada

Happy Holidays. I hope you come to Teotitlan del Valle this year to experience this remarkable celebration for yourself.  The posada tonight will start aound 6 p.m. at the corner of Pino Suarez and Zaragoza near the new chapel.

Children learn to appreciate their culture with parental help

The sons of Fortino Chavez Bautista, California born, bred and educated

The procession is serious and somber.

We built a Nacimiento (manger) in honor of the old ways of decorating

 

 

 

 

Follow Me Cultural + Photo Walking Tour, Christmas Posadas: One Day in Teotitlan del Valle

Christmas in Oaxaca is magical. In ancient villages throughout the central valleys, indigenous Zapotec people celebrate with a mix of pre-Hispanic mystical ritual blended with Spanish-European Catholic practice.

A moment’s rest. Christmas Posada, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, 2015

They retrace the Census pilgrimage (Roman command to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem for Cesar’s census) of Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem. The posadas in Teotitlan del Valle are held for nine nights, culminating with the last posada on Christmas Eve. Each host family serves as innkeeper for the night, throwing a big party, and welcoming guests into the home.

Cradling Baby Jesus at the altar, Teotitlan del Valle

The procession is elaborate and takes the pilgrims and the litter carrying Mary and Joseph from one inn to the next, through the winding cobblestone streets of the village, touching each neighborhood. Women carrying beeswax candles and children with sparklers guide the way. Altar boys illuminate the streets with candle-topped stanchions.

The last posada, Christmas Eve, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Copal incense leaves an aroma trail. Church officials send firecrackers skyward to announce the coming of the pilgrims to the next neighborhood. It is solemn, festive and spiritual.

Wishing you season’s greeting with health and joy always.

What could be better than to experience one day of this celebration with those who lives here? This is an informal cultural immersion walking tour, so be prepared to walk, and then walk some more! Please bring your camera if you like. You will have permission to take photos.

  •      When:  Friday, December 22 — One Day ONLY
  •      Time:  1 p.m. to 9 p.m. (approximate end time)
  •      Where: Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico
  •      Cost:  $125 per person includes late afternoon supper

Who is this one-day study tour for? Anyone interested in knowing more about how Christmas is celebrated in a Mexican village. All amateur photographers are welcome, from no to mid-level experience, and anyone interested in photo tourism and who wants a more personal travel experience.

Group Size Limited to 8 People: We welcome children and young adults ages 12 and over.

Parking lot, Tlacolula market sky, Sunday before Christmas

You will follow me into the homes of Zapotec families to talk about and observe the celebrations and decorations. You will have plenty of photo opportunities to capture images of people and place. You will take home memories that cannot be duplicated, to be treasured and shared for a lifetime.

Nochebuena flower or poinsettia, native to Mexico, Christmas full-bloom

What You Will See:

  • Behind the gates, behind the walls, honest village life
  • Food preparation for special occasions
  • Homes and altar rooms elaborately decorated for Christmas
  • Candlelit processions, complete with incense and mysticism

During the day, we will visit several family homes to see how they celebrate Christmas. We will bring chocolate and bread to the altar in greeting, a tradition.

Blessings before the altar at the home of the Patron.

After dark, we will take part in the procession that will carry Mary and Joseph on litters from one home to the next on their recreated journey to Bethlehem.

Photography Opportunities–What You Will Do:

  • Attend to natural and artificial lighting to get the best shot
  • Practice street photography on-the-hoof
  • Request permission from people to take their photos
  • Discuss photo-taking etiquette, When to ask or not?
  • Create portrait opportunities with the people you meet
  • Gain access to family compounds
  • Point out great photo opportunities
  • Explore night photography challenges and opportunities
  • Go home with a portfolio of your experiences

The pilgrims entering the altar room, Teotitlan del Valle

We DO NOT give instruction on how to use your camera. This will not be about camera settings or technical information. You will want to know your camera before you arrive. We will not offer an editing session or instructions on how to edit.

Food preparation area for posada participants

We DO provide a rich, cultural immersion experience, with all types of cameras welcome: mobile phone cameras, film, DSLR and mirrorless, instant, Poloroid, etc.

What to Bring:

  • Your spirit of discovery and adventure
  • Your camera
  • Extra batteries and charger
  • Extra storage disks
  • Optional tripod, if you wish
  • Notepad and pen

Lodging Options: You may wish to make this a day trip and return to Oaxaca city on the same night. Or you may wish to spend the night in Teotitlan del Valle (or perhaps several). Choose Casa Elena, Las Granadas B&B guesthouse, or La Cupula. Make your own reservations and pay your hosts directly.

Watching the procession go by, Teotitlan del Valle

About Your Photo Walking Tour Leader: Norma Schafer is an experienced amateur photographer who enjoys taking portraits as much as capturing the pulsating world of Oaxaca village life. Her photographs have been exhibited at Duke University, The Levine Museum of the American South, and featured in two chapters of the award-winning book, Textile Fiestas of Mexico (Thrums). She is most interested in the aesthetic of photography, rather than the technical details, acknowledging that to get a good photo, one must know how the camera works first!

The musicians always lead the way, announcing the coming of the procession

How to Book Your Reservation: Send Norma an email to let her know you want to participate. We will send you an invoice to make a PayPal payment to secure your place.

Cancellations: If, once you make your 100% prepaid reservation, and you find you are unable to attend, you may cancel up to 30 days in advance and receive a 50% refund. After that, refunds are not possible. You are always welcome to send a substitute in your place.

Even a blurry photo evokes mood and sense of place

Trip Insurance: We strongly encourage you to take out trip cancellation and medical evacuation insurance. We cannot emphasize enough how important this is when traveling in any foreign country. Since this is a one-day excursion, trip insurance is not mandatory, but highly advisable.

 

 

 

 

From Oaxaca, Mexico: Feliz Fiestas y Navidad, Merry Holidays, Chag Sameach

Wishing you all the blessings of peace, contentment, safety and good health at this joyous time of year when we think of renewal, looking beyond the Winter Solstice as the earth turns, the days grow longer and all is well in the land.

Feliz Fiestas from Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca. Poinsettias. Mexico’s gift to the world.

We are dormant now. Slower. More thoughtful, perhaps. In ancient cultures our attention might turn to the spring planting. May our seeds of new life bring forth all the richness of life that we each deserve.

Christmas in Mexico Photo Gallery: Mexico Travel Photography

Barbara and David Garcia’s magnificent Christmas Tree, Chula Vista, California

For all my Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Muslim, Parsi, Buddhist, Bahai, agnostic, atheist friends around the world, and those whose religions I do not know, it is my fervent hope that 2017 becomes the year of reconciliation, cross-cultural acceptance and understanding. We have the opportunity to act locally to make change and bring us together.

Whew, I’m finally home in Oaxaca!

Honoring the altar/manger, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca Christmas

After a long night of delayed flights due to weather in Tijuana, a bumpy ride, followed by a five-hour nap, and a late night of traditional Christmas Eve celebration with my beloved Chavez Santiago family in Teotitlan eating stuffed turkey laden with plenty of tryptophan, I am awake to a new day. Almost normal.

The last posada, Christmas Eve, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

I’m drinking a great cup of strong Oaxaca coffee. The sun is up and it’s going to be a glorious day.

Celebrating Mohammed’s birthday with Salim Wazir and family, Bhuj, Gujarat, India

This year, Christmas and Hanukkah converge once more. Feliz Navidad. Chag Sameach. Two weeks ago, in Bhuj, Gujarat, India, I celebrated Eid and Mohammed’s Birthday with Salim Wazir and his family. We sat on the floor around a feast covered tablecloth and ate together. My Muslim friends wore white, a symbol of purity.

Boundary line, border crossing, USA and Mexico. #No wall!

My son Jacob and I crossed over the bridge linking the USA to the Tijuana, Mexico, airport. I met a 16-year old returning to Oaxaca who hasn’t seen his mother and sisters in four years.

I said to him, I bet you have a story to tell.

Yes, he nodded.

I could only imagine.

May love and an open heart prevail as we move into 2017.

I saw a mix of people carrying USA, Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua passports going home for Christmas to visit family. I am reminded how connection is so important in our lives. How the Berlin wall fell. That walls cannot break us.

Sparklers light the way for La Ultima Posada, the last posada, on Christmas Eve

In Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, this morning I awakened to cojetes — firecrackers — and the sound of music. Christmas music. Tunes we are familiar with — Silent Night, White Christmas, Joy to the World and Feliz Navidad — sung in Spanish, blared out over a loud-speaker from somewhere in the village. Tunes whose origins are German, American, Latin, religious and secular, some composed by a Jewish immigrant Irving Berlin.

Bedecked for the holidays on the Zocalo, Oaxaca, Mexico

In the past thirteen years since I first started coming here regularly, it seems that USA popular culture has infiltrated our local villages more and more. Blinking holiday lights, reindeer on rooftops and x-Box games on big screen TVs are more prevalent than ever.

Oaxaca’s radish festival. Even Porfirio Diaz got kicked out.

Change happens. It is neither good or evil. It is to be discussed, explored, researched and understood. Whatever the next Man in D.C. tries to do, I defy him to build a wall that separates families. He is not my president.

Another babe in arms. Zocalo, Oaxaca, Mexico

This is what dads do in Mexico. They kiss and hold their babies. They don’t want to be separated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three More Posada Days in Teotitlan del Valle: Magical Moments

Counting tonight, there will be three more posadas in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, this year, December 22, 23 and 24.  Christmas Eve is La Ultima Posada, the last posada, when Mary and Joseph settle into the Bethlehem manger and give birth to baby Jesus.

The posadas leading up to this event each year recreate this journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem in what was then known as Judea, land of the Jews, populated by people who called themselves Israelites. Posada means inn or resting place in Spanish, the search for lodging by Mary and Joseph.

Well, I’m not a biblical scholar so if you want to know more about history and identity during this period, there are volumes to consult and study.

Here in Teotitlan del Valle, the tradition is to pass through the entire village each night for nine days to honor Mary and Joseph, and the coming birth of Jesus.

Memoir Writing Workshop, March 2016

Hosts of the posada designate this honor to carry sedan chair that supports the carved wood figures to close family members or friends. Other special designees carry handmade beeswax candles decorated with wax flowers at the front of the line.

There are always two bands, one far ahead and one behind the sedan chair. They form a musical call and response, one somber, one energetic. Fireworks, firecrackers, candles and copal incense also help guide the way and announce the posada’s progress.

The posada goes through each neighborhood and as it does, villagers fall in behind until there is a long stream of people — young and old — tagging along. The older women, hair in braids, heads covered with ikat woven shawls, are often the most dedicated. Grandmothers hold babes in arms, toddlers hold the hands of an older brother or sister.  Cultural education begins early.

Finally, the procession comes to the home of the next night’s posada host. There, the family will rest overnight and through the next day, then continue their journey until December 24.

Each host provides a huge, on-going meal and beverages, and guarantees that all the costs will be covered. Invited guests will bring a case of beer and/or mezcal as a tribute. Food and drink is prepared for hundreds.

As I walked the dirt and cobblestone streets along with my Zapotec neighbors, I thought about how connected these people are with each other and their traditions. It is winter solstice. Days will lengthen. The religious and cultural cycle will move into Easter by mid-February. There are always rituals one can depend on here to keep community intact.

Do you want to visit and participate?  Stay at Casa Elena B&B or at Las Granadas B&B. Ask your hosts to tell you where the posada is located. They will point the way and my bet is you will be welcome to join. Posadas start about 7 p.m. and end a couple of hours later.

Now, a word about night photography. I didn’t carry a tripod for my new camera. There was constant people movement so a tripod would have been useless. In the house of the posada, the fluorescent light put a yellow glare out into the environment. The shadows were deep. As we moved out onto the narrow, dark, dirt paved street there was little light and I had to increase ISO to 10,000.  There in the distance were the strobes of local video cameramen. FYI: I rarely use flash.

This is all to say that my night photos were not very successful. But, I’m publishing them anyway so you get the gist of what this celebration feels like. It’s better to be here yourself to feel the experience.