Tag Archives: Christmas

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.


Tlacolula Market Christmas Preview: Oaxaca Glitters

I grew up in Tinseltown. My memory is imprinted with pink, blue and white flocked Christmas trees for sale on pop-up corner lots along Ventura Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. Glitter was not only reserved for Hollywood. Garlands of sparkling silver ropes and plastic poinsettias could make any California dream of snowmen come true even in sunny December.

Checking email, texting or whatever -- Tlacolula, Oaxaca, Mexico

Checking email, texting or whatever — Tlacolula, Oaxaca, Mexico

Little did we know that poinsettias, called nochebuena here, are native to Mexico, bloom in November and December, have become the North American symbol for Christmas. They are all over town.


Welcome to Tlacolula, Oaxaca, Mexico, where traditional Mexican Christmas decorations of moss and bromeliads mingle with shiny stars, dangling bulbs, plastic farm animals and colored Christmas trees — a cross-cultural holiday morphing that points to the immigration back and forth across the border (sorry, Donald Trump).  And it’s sunny here, too. Sometimes downright hot in December.

Everything you’d ever need to decorate for Christmas

Evoking Frida Kahlo: Making Memory Altars and Shrines, February 25-28, 2016

So many of Mexican parentage are United States of American citizens and they come home to visit family this season. We can debate the impact of change and commercialism on the culture of indigenous Mexico and what the word authentic means.  People come back together after being separated and that in itself is good news.

Bromeliads from the Sierra Juarez, traditional decorations

(Don’t forget, Donald Trump, that Mexicans have lived in the United States for over 400 years, and that the southwest was stolen from Mexico in a trumped up war to gain territory.)


Poinsettias that are planted in tierra firma bloom here every holiday season — a natural part of the environment. So, there’s no excuse for fake here, although I see plenty of imported from China nochebuena flowers sticking out of vases on restaurant tabletops.

A 30-lb. turkey (or more) at 1,300 MXN pesos, led on a string

Those who can afford it will have turkey —  pavo,  guajolote — on their Christmas table.  This will  usually be dressed with mole negro or mole amarillo, depending on family tradition. There were plenty of live turkeys for sale on this Tlacolula market day, the last one before Christmas. The ladies were vying for customers.

The poultry sellers market, Tlacolula, Oaxaca

I could hardly get through the crowds, even at my usual 10:30 a.m. arrival time when typically there are fewer people. The crowds don’t usually come until after noon. But, the aisles were jammed with vendors, either stationary at tables or sitting on mats, or trying to move rolling carts from one spot to another.

Couple this with families out shopping for Christmas gifts and visitors from the city and you can imagine the skill required to negotiate the camino without tripping over someone or getting stepped on.

Fancy day-glow tennis shoes, a perfect Christmas gift

What I noticed most were a different variety of displays this time of year destined to become gifts: day-glow socks, lacy underwear, art work, fleecy hats, piles of oranges, embroidered little girl dresses and fancy tennis shoes.

Mamay fruit also known as Zapote Chico

Wall decor for holiday giving, some original, some reproductions

Plus, lots of fireworks for sale. Pyrotechnics are a big deal here and kids love shooting off firecrackers and spinners. Are they regulated? Heck, no.


Waiting in line for remittances, Tlacolula, Oaxaca, Mexico

The line out in front of the money exchange was a block long all day long. People were waiting to collect the remittance dollar being sent from the U.S.A. by family members who are there working for the benefit of those at home.  Since the exchange rate is now over 17 MXN pesos to the dollar, this is a Christmas bonus for many in the Tlacolula Valley.

  Notice the Michigan Black Beans sign above. Wonder who picked them?

Tourists love it, too. This is an especially good time to go shopping in Mexico. I noticed the market had more than its share of gringo travelers. Let’s hope they left with some treasures and left their pesos behind.

Oil paintings and watercolors for sale on Tlacolula street

Oil paintings and watercolors for sale on Tlacolula street, kitsch folk art

Piñatas for Christmas? Yes, it’s someone’s birthday!

I am waiting for my  family to arrive this week for holiday celebrations. We are going on a Collectivo 1050 Degrados tour to Atzompa tomorrow, a mezcal tour next week, maybe a visit to Hierve el Agua and a stop in Mitla on the way back. It’ll be busy, but I’ll try to keep up with Oaxaca comings and goings.

Packed parking lot — first time in my memory here.






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




Three Kings Day and Rosca de Reyes, Oaxaca, Mexico

Rosca de Reyes-3It’s January 6, Three Kings Day in Mexico, that marks Christmas celebrations in Latin America and Spain, culminating in the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas.  The children especially gather around to open gifts, sip hot chocolate made with water, no milk, and dig into tamales and Rosca de Reyes.

Rosca de Reyes (1)

Everyone loves Rosca de Reyes. And, everyone tries to avoid getting one of the little plastic baby Jesus figures baked into the sweet dough.  Why? Because if you get the baby, you must host a tamale party for your family and friends on Dia de la Candelaria. This is the official ending of the Christmas season and the transition into Easter. Good tamales, like the women make here in Teotitlan del Valle, are very labor intensive.

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This morning I set out for the Teotitlan del Valle market in search of Eloisa. Last night I bought a rich round egg bread made with pure butter, studded with dried fruit and topped with crab apples. She bakes them in the clay oven tucked into the corner of the courtyard, one at a time.  The outside is crusty and the inside soft, sweet, melt-in-your mouth magic.

Rosca de Reyes-2

A group of us from the village gathered and after mezcal and tamales, we gobbled up Eloisa’s cake. I wanted more. As I drove to the market early, there she was walking back home, empty basket in hand. But, she had an extra one stashed away at home and I happily gave her 80 pesos to tuck it into my shopping bag.

Rosca de Reyes-6

Then, in the market bakery section there were any number of bakers selling their own versions of Rosca de Reyes.  I bought two more to give as gifts to friends, another lovely tradition of sharing that comes with living in Mexico.

I’m experimenting with a “new” wide-angle Tokina 11-16mm lens I bought used from B&H Photo to fit my Nikon D7000.  Fun to get a different perspective.  I’m practicing and getting ready for our Portrait Photography Workshop coming up at the end of the month.

Rosca de Reyes-7


Christmas in Oaxaca: Three Wise Men and Rosca de Reyes

It feels like springtime here in Oaxaca, although we are still celebrating Christmas.  Yesterday was downright warm, with temperatures rising to the low 80’s, though nights can be a chilly 45 or 50 degrees.  Christmas here is an elaborate and lengthy celebration, starting on December 12 to celebrate the Virgin of Guadalupe and officially ending with Dia de la Candelaria on February 2.   The Three Magi, or Wise Men, arrive on January 6, for Day of the Three Kings or Dia de los Tres Reyes.

Celebrated and tasty Rosca de Reyes

Celebrated and tasty Rosca de Reyes

You have probably figured out that food motivates me almost as much as textiles.  So, this morning I was off again to the wondrous, expansive Sunday tianguis — portable street market — in Tlacolula de Matamoros, ten minutes from where I live.  I wanted to see what was in store for food preparations.

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Front and center is Rosca de Reyes, a round or oval fruit-studded sweet bread, a traditional delight.  Most Oaxaca celebrations are home and family centric, with a children’s gift exchange and a spin the top gambling game with whole nuts.  When you go visiting, it is customary to bring a small gift for children and one of these bread loaves.

Tucked inside the loaves are one or several little plastic dolls that symbolize the baby Jesus.  Whomever gets one of these dolls embedded in their slice of Rosca is obliged to host a tamale party on Candlemas.  Corn and tamales, symbols of sustenance, are interwoven into this and other Mexican celebrations.

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Today in the Tlacolula market the bread section was piled high with pan de yema, a sweet egg bread, shaped in the round.   The vendors were doing a brisk business. This year, bakers added decoration of sliced, canned peaches to accompany the candied dates, prunes, pineapple bits and cherries.

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Live poultry, like guajolotes and chickens, are a big item, too.  Add to that roses ($1 USD a dozen), huge papaya (10 cents each), mangoes, melon, strawberries, watermelon, avocado (5 cents each USD), and any number of types of other fresh fruits and vegetables at everyday bargain prices. For those who forget to bring their shopping baskets or buy more than they planned, there are specialty vendors who sell these, too.

ThreeKingsDay-15 ThreeKingsDay-12            I like to arrive at the market by 10 a.m. to take a leisurely stroll through the streets.  Before noon, there are not a lot of people and there is no line at the bank ATM located on church side street.  Later, it’s packed and it’s like bumper cars with people.

Chicken meatballs in spicy broth at Comedor Mary

Chicken meatballs in spicy broth at Comedor Mary

Lunch is a special treat at Comedor Mary, located on the opposite side of the church on the street that borders the permanent market. Today’s special was albondigas con pollo — a picante broth with fresh ground and spiced chicken meatballs.  Amazingly delicious.

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This is the season to come to Oaxaca and stay a while.  It is a feast for all your senses.  And it is senseless to stay wrapped up in frigid northern weather if you don’t have to!  Feliz Año Nuevo.