In the hills beyond the Oaxaca village of Teotitlan del Valle, there is a sacred Zapotec site. It is said a virgin appeared and whomever comes to the ancient Zapotec grottos to offer tribute and make wishes will be blessed for the coming year.
Las Cuevitas means little caves.
Beginning on December 31, people of the village gather on the hillside, set up a campsite, welcome the new year, light bonfires, shoot off fireworks and celebrate. Some build small rock structures that represent wishes for additions to houses, a new second story, a corral for livestock, a car or truck, a new roof. Wishes are concrete and often basic.
Wishes are also for good health, longevity, improved family relationships, abundance.
At the three grottos and in the small chapel, after waiting in a queue with locals, my sister, brother and I said our prayers, gave our donation, and felt the luster of the warm late afternoon.
In ancient times, Zapotecs hurled burning coals to make the night sky glow. Today, there are sparklers and shooting stars.
People from other villages comes, too. We can tell by the aprons the women wear. Most prominent are the fancy, flouncy aprons from San Miguel del Valle.
This year the celebration is more in the Guelaguetza style with professional costumed dancers and a band to accompany them. Formal festivities started at 4 p.m. and continued until well after dark. It seemed like there were more people than ever, but most of them were riveted to the dancers rather than constructing rock wishes on the hillside.
I was told that there is a new village committee every year to organize the Las Cuevitas celebration.
We did not have the village band with the ancient Zapotec flute player (both the flute and player are ancient) this year. It was more polished, and I missed the old traditions. Everyone, however, seemed to revel in the opportunity to see something new and different.
There was a big outdoor food court to buy snacks and tacos and pastries. There were stands with local people selling votive altar candles and fireworks, chili-spiced potato chips and chicharron, a favorite.
We climbed the rocky slopes to watch the sun set over the Tlacolula Valley, ate our tacos al pastor and quesadillas, and went home with sweet dreams.
If you are in Oaxaca during New Year in the future, I encourage to join in this experience. It is magical, renewing and heartfelt. A great way to start fresh and welcome the new year.
The next celebration is Day of the Three Kings, January 6. This is the traditional time of gift giving for children. We cycle through the year going from one celebration to the next!