Tag Archives: las cuevitas

Happy New Year: Feliz Año Nuevo From Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

My family is here for the New Year. This past week we celebrated with a mezcal tour led by Alvin Starkman, a pottery tour to Santa Maria Atzompa with Innovando y Tradicion and a family trip to Hierve el Agua and San Juan del Rio.

We ended 2015 with a grand New Year’s Eve fiesta and finished off with a January 1 ritual pilgrimage to Las Cuevitas to welcome the New Year with wishes. Here, everyone is encouraged to have dreams.

This year the sunset at Las Cuevitas was less than dramatic but the festivities carried on in grand style befitting Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca.  Like, close to the entire village was here. The band plays on and fireworks continue throughout the day and night.

 

We could call it a family picnic on the hillside but it’s much more than that. This celebration to welcome in the New Year is ancient. These grottos where three altars stand hold magical and healing properties. Make a wish at the altar. Then toss a coin into the small brook. If the coin lands on the plate and not in the water your wish will come true.

A wish for good health and prosperity, with candles, flowers and pesos

A wish for good health and prosperity, with candles, flowers and pesos

Mostly, people wish for good health. They might dream of a new house or a baby or a yard filled with farm animals, a good corn crop, the absence of drought. Abundance is a dream we all wish for, worldwide. We sent a prayer to our mom who just died. Lit a candle. Made our tribute.

The fire log toss, Teotitlan del Valle style at Las Cuevitas

The fire log toss, Teotitlan del Valle style at Las Cuevitas

Here young men play with fire. They soak a special log in kerosene and take turns throwing it off to the next one in the circle. A pre-Hispanic ritual, someone explains to me.

Families gather around campfires. Some have pitched tents and spend the night there New Year’s Eve. There are cooking stoves and the smell of grilled meat fills the air.

 

Each year on January 1, I always like to arrive by 4 p.m. to get there in time for sunset. This gives me a chance to gather rocks and join the locals to build a miniature structure that will symbolize plenty in the year to come.

 

Small plastic barnyard animals are for sale at the entrance to the caves. You can add these to the front yard of your house or build a roof with leafy branches gathered from the countryside. 

As sun sets, the sparklers twinkle and we get into the rhythm of the evening. It is festive and makes us pause to reflect on the past year and the one to come.

This year I had my son, sister, brother-in-law and goddaughter with me, along with friends, so being at Las Cuevitas was a special time. We made wishes, gave thanks, remembered parents and grandparents, and looked out onto the Tlacolula Valley from the mountain top.

More than a few of us played with fire. As sunset became night, the hillside filled with a display of light that could be seen from the Pan-American highway.

 

Wishing you all a 2016 filled with love, all that you wish for including blessings, peace, health, contentment and satisfaction. Thank you for being with me on this remarkable journey.

Un abrazo, Norma.

P.S. If you want to come and spend the night, make your reservations early! There is a limited supply of rooms in Teotitlan del Valle and I know some people were disappointed they couldn’t be here.

Happy New Year 2015 — Feliz Año Nuevo From Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

For the past five weeks I’ve been recovering from knee replacement surgery, first in North Carolina with dear friends who took great care of me, and then in Santa Cruz, California with my family.  I returned to Casita Alegria on December 30, just in time to celebrate another New Year’s Eve birthday with intimate friends in Teotitlan del Valle, where I live.

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On the eve of the new year, we each wrote our 2014 regrets and our 2015 hopes and wishes, folded the piece of paper and in a private moment of reflection tossed the paper into the fire blazing in the chiminea on the patio.  For me, this was a time of letting go of past, concentrating on now and focusing on  future.

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An honored tradition here in Teotitlan del Valle is the January 1 pilgrimage to Las Cuevitas.  This is a feast day, a day of gathering in the hills behind the village at an ancient pre-Hispanic Zapotec site and looking ahead to what the new year will bring.  The caves, or rocky grottos, hold altars for prayer and making offerings.  Poinsettias, lilies, fresh eggs, candles and money are symbols for the season and starting anew.

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Families gather on the hillsides, start bonfires, bring picnic suppers, light sparklers to mesmerize both adults and children. The day is warm, the early evening balmy.  The sun sets at Las Cuevitas and the entire village, or so it seems, has assembled, puts on an extra layer of clothing to protect themselves from the coming chill. The band plays. Vendors sell soft drinks, pastries.  At a comal, a woman prepares quesadillas for sale.  It is festive, intimate.

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There is an almost full moon. The hillside glows in wonderment of prayer and promise as strewn rocks become constructions of possibility:  a new home, a corral for livestock, a second story.  Zapotec dreams are always tied to the land.

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As for me, my knee is healing.  I am ambulatory with the aid of a walking stick made from a piece of beautiful twisted North Carolina dogwood. I am able to drive my manual transmission car and continue to do my exercises.  The pain and discomfort has subsided but it is still with me.  I’m hoping to be able to walk more than 5,000 steps a day very soon.

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Sending you wishes for a new year filled with good health, contentment, satisfaction and connection. One in which we live in peace, make peace with the past and look forward with hopefulness.  Blessings to all.

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People of Oaxaca: Portrait Photography Workshop starts January 30. There is room for you!

 

Sunset at Las Cuevitas: Rare Green Flash in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

I recently learned that green flash is a rare phenomenon that occurs at sunset in a clear atmosphere, usually captured looking west over the Pacific Ocean.  (It can happen at sunrise, too.) I was looking west into a clear sky on January 1, 2014, when I took this photograph at the Las Cuevitas celebration in Teotitlan del Valle.

Sometimes, the light refracts, bends and the green becomes a jagged wave in the sky.  A California consulting firm was looking for just such a photo, found it on my blog and asked if they could license rights to use it. I agreed.  Whoot, whoot!

And, did you see the two photos selected for publication in Issue 4 of the Minerva Rising on the theme of “Mothers”?

Upcoming Photography Workshops

Day of the Dead Photography Expedition Tour — October 2014

Portrait Photography Workshop Tour: People of Oaxaca — January 2015

What I have learned about photography is the result of having participated in the workshops I have organized over the last several years.  Our instructors are outstanding, patient, knowledgeable teachers who have published large bodies of work.  They are working photographers and experienced instructors. You get to practice what you learn.  Oaxaca and Teotitlan del Valle is our learning laboratory. The satisfaction of becoming a better photographer is amazing!

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!

 

Las Cuevitas: Building New Year Dreams

New Year wishes and dreams come in many forms.  In the U.S.A. we open a bottle of bubbly, raise a toast  and dance the night away.  For some, the ritual for watching the New Year arrive involves peering into the television to party-on with Times Square revelers.  Some of us may get really serious and make a list of resolutions that require dedicated devotion to change.  This can be a time of celebration, of renewal and of making and attempting to keep commitments.  A noble endeavor.

Teoti Las Cuevitas Family Sparkler

I remember growing up in Los Angeles and crawling out of bed to join my little sister and brother in front of the television to watch the Pasadena Rose Parade.  We dreamt of being there, of getting a great curbside view of the pageantry, the floats, the horsemanship of bygone T.V. cowboys who we adored.   We lived twenty miles away but the early morning January 1 ritual of snuggling in front of the television was our way of welcoming in the new year as children. Eventually, both my brother and sister marched in that parade when their high school bands won the competition to participate.  I was their cheerleader.

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Each year as the clock counts down and the calendar page turns, we can take part in the process to pause, assess, and reevaluate what is important in our lives.  It can be a turning point, a marker, an opportunity and a blessing.  New Years celebrations are universal and timed to different cycles.   Chinese New Year  marks the end of winter when celebrants decorate with red paper cut-outs, forget grudges and wish each other peace and happiness.   Ramadan is the most sacred for observers of Islam, when the focus is on spiritual reflection, improvement and increased devotion and worship.   For Jews, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, offers an opportunity to amend behavior and seek forgiveness for wrongs done.  Many traditions mark an annual observance to acknowledge the mysteries of life, to rebuild, rededicate and look to a better future.

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In Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico, each year on January 1 and January 2, villagers begin the annual cultural and religious festivities known as Las Cuevitas.  After a family meal, they process together  en mass as a community to the caves in the foothills beyond the pueblo.  Clustered in extended family groupings, they approach the grotto where the virgin appeared, make an offering and a new year wish, then move inside the serene on-site chapel to give and receive blessings.  In years past we have participated, joining our adopted Teotitlan del Valle family to find a suitable rocky outcropping to gather rocks and build our dreams.

Sparklers at Las Cuevitas Building the Casita

Dreams take the physical form of houses, barns, cars, a new plow.  But the dream is also spiritual and along with firecrackers and food, the altar is the hillside where the collective assembles to give prayer in hope for a better world for families, loved ones, and extended community.

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Today in North Carolina we will move through our farm, gather rocks, sticks and branches, and leaves.  We will build another house in symbolic solidarity with our Mexican friends and land that we love.

Happiest new year to you all.  May your dreams be filled with abundance, peace and well-being, good health and contentment.  May your family and friends be surrounded by warmth, generosity and hope.  Welcome 2013.   Feliz y prospero año nuevo.

Papel Picado at Las Cuevitas