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.
Beyond the town’s paved roads, back into the hills far from the village center, is the sacred site Teotitecos call Las Cuevitas. It is the third night, January 2, of a weeklong New Year’s observance practiced here in Teotitlan del Valle long before the Spanish Conquest. For the ancients, the moon set the calendar. A late December -early January super moon would have been an awesome sight thousands of years ago just as it is today.
Sunset at Las Cuevitas, 2018, infused with cooking fire smoke
I arrive by 4:30 p.m. when it’s light enough to find a comfortable seat on a rock outcropping. I am intentionally alone to take in this environment where I live and to do my own meditation about the coming year with no distractions other than the landscape and my neighbors.
The rock mountain has changed dramatically since I was here two years ago. In a beautification plan, I see the steep, stony hillside is planted with young trees struggling to survive this high desert terrain.
Tents are as simple as a large umbrella to protect from wind and sun
The deep holes in which they are planted look like moon craters. Perhaps in ten years this will become a tree-shaded park filled with flowering Flor de Mayo and guaje trees. Ojala!
Dusk brings obscure images of people and distant mounds
But not now. The soil is more hospitable to thorny brush. Careful. A misstep on the rock pebbles will send you tumbling. (It did for me and the protective lens cover of my camera shattered.)
A camp tent and meat on the grill
This third night is less populated, more tranquil with fewer people. Families set up camp and convert the slope to a picnic ground. Some have tarp shelters or elaborate tents, sides tethered to ground with rocks gathered nearby. Ropes anchor tent to boulders.
Extended family gather around the table for a meal together al fresco
Children carry blankets, barbecue grills, wood, charcoal, a bag of meat to cook, a basket of mandarin oranges. I smell charcoal fires and gasoline, the strike of sulphur as a match lights. A wind whips up, carries smoke and cinder. Children hide their faces. So do I. Grandmothers, braids tied with crimson ribbon curl atop their heads like a crown, hover, tend to tender eyes.
Las Cuevitas panorama offer a spectacular valley view
Fragrant greens and wild flowers are traditional here
The language of Zapotec is spoken here. First language for first peoples. People I know and some I don’t, greet me with Feliz Año Nuevo, extend their arms in embrace and a pat on the back.
Packing out the remains of a meal or an overnight stay?
Las Cuevitas is the place to pray for a good year. Mostly, my friend Antonio tells me, people ask for good health. Nothing is more important, he says. In my personal world, God is universal and all human beings are good. It is easy for me to be here, lay a coin on the altar of the Virgin of Guadalupe — Earth Goddess –and pray for a year of good health and contentment. We all deserve blessings.
In the grotto, small caves hold religious altars to accept prayers for good health
A small chapel receives visitors who kneel and pray
Along the rock hill, I see remnants of dreams constructed on the last two nights of the celebration with rocks, moss, fragrant greens, sticks. These are facsimiles of new houses, a second floor addition, a roof, a fence, a stockade for cattle or goats. Dreams come true if you come to Las Cuevitas and build a miniature.
Miniature farm animals are an important part of constructing dreams
Families gather together for the annual celebration
Mostly, it’s about family, intergenerational connection, integration, celebration. Gathering on the hillside to build together, eat together, pray together, play together. Cultural continuity and endurance prevails here despite intrusions from other worlds.
I’m waiting for Sunset at Las Cuevitas
It’s 5:30 p.m. and the sun glows through the clouds. I’m waiting for sunset at Las Cuevitas. Dry grasses wave. Firecrackers are lit and go skyward with a bang. All is illuminated.
The grandmothers, their braids are a crown
Beyond the caves, cows graze on the top of the opposite hill. Families continue to stream in. Women fan cooking fires. Men carry cases of beer, coolers of food. Soon after dark, young men will throw fireballs across the horizon, much like their ancestors did in a test of strength.
I stay until the sun dips into the Sierra Madre del Sur beyond the next village, Macuilxochitl. You can see their church in the distance. Under the mound that rises on the horizon is an unearthed Zapotec archeological site.
Gold glow of the setting sun, Teotitlan del Valle, January 2, 2018
As the sun vanishes, there is chill and I want to get down the rocky slope before the light dims and I can’t find my way. I want to remember the vast expanse of universe, the valley below, the magnificence of sun, moon, stars and the days that are a gift to make meaningful.
This is sacred space to respect, enjoy and keep clean
I decided to have a very small New Year’s Eve birthday celebration, invite a few Zapotec friends and the family I live with to lunch, and prepare pozole. I made this in North Carolina for Dia de los Muertos, but adapted the recipe for ingredients I could find there.
Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico — Feliz Año Nuevo
Here, in the Teotitlan del Valle market, I could find fresh Mexican oregano, organic and native corn hominy made by a local family, and tender pork from the local butcher that cost a mere $7 USD for the best cut.
Grilling onion, garlic and jalapeño pepper on the comal to bring out flavors
2 kilos of tomatillos, peeled, disinfected, simmered 20 minutes
After three trips to the car to unload my shopping basket, I sat down at the corner market stand for fortification — a fresh juice cocktail with beets, pineapple, carrot and orange.
Fresh juice respite, Teotitlan del Valle market, with shopping list
Almost everything here in the village market is criollo — or native species. The small heads of garlic come from the neighboring village of Tlacochuaya. You can only buy the heads with giant cloves at commercial grocery stores.
Pepitas on the comal — griddle, toast before peeling
I did have a glitch in my preparation. My search for shelled pumpkin seeds (called pepitas) failed. So I bought whole seeds in a bulk bag from a spice and chili vendor. When I got home, I proceeded to try to take the skin off. The pumpkin seeds are essential to the green pozole because when ground, they become a natural sauce thickener.
Blend onion, garlic, cilantro, peppers, tomatillo, pepitas to a paste
Then my friend Lupita came over. Much easier, Norma, to toast the seeds on the comal, she told me, then the shell will come right off. She taught me how to toast until the seeds start to pop like popcorn. It took me two hours to yield 1/4 cup of shelled pumpkin seeds, the amount my recipe called for. She sat down to help me and in thirty minutes the amount doubled.
Pozole verde: hominy, pork, chicken bits, spices in casserole
I love green pozole. And, I remembered how easy it was to make this one-pot meal in North Carolina. But, all fruits and vegetables here in Mexico need to be disinfected. I often rinse them several times to get rid of the soil. Picked fresh organic cilantro and radishes are sold roots and greens. Just to get the ingredients ready was another lesson in paciencia.
Crock pot does the trick for slow cooking pork/chicken with sea salt, garlic, onion
For this Green Pozole (pozole verde) recipe, I adapted ingredients and instructions culled from Rick Bayless, Mama Latina Tips, and Food Network. I prepared the pork-chicken/onion/garlic mix in a crock pot first, cooking for six hours.
When lunch ended it was almost dusk. Lunch starts here around three or four o’clock and can end several hours later depending on the quantity of food and mezcal. We had our fair share of both.
A few lunch guests, family and friends
For the next feast we would gather at 10:30 p.m. for a midnight meal with my host family to celebrate the New Year. This is a long-standing tradition in Teotitlan del Valle, along with the annual pilgrimage to Las Cuevitas.
Pozole, or fresh hominy, rinsed, disinfected and drained
For the interlude, I went up to the rooftop terrace to wait, climbed into the hammock, and gazed at this December 31 Supermoon. In the distance I could hear the village band playing at the sacred caves — Las Cuevitas. Cohetes, or firecrackers, exploded like gunshot at irregular intervals. Dogs howled. Probably a few coyotes, too.
Vegetarian version with choyote squash, hominy and green sauce
On this first day of 2018, as my Teotitlan del Valle family and I sat around the table at lunch, we each shared our wishes for 2018. I wish for continued good health, for continuing to walk three to four miles a day with my adopted dogs, for nothing more than what I already have, except to see my son more often and perhaps the possibility of a man in my life. Vamos a ver!
Supermoon from my hammock on the casita rooftop terrace, Teotitlan del Valle
As this year begins anew, as we each move through the passage of time, I wish for all of us a year of peace, satisfaction, contentment, love and abundance. There is nothing more important than the support of family and good friends.
Thank you all for following Oaxaca Cultural Navigator, for reading, for joining me to discover and explore textiles and natural dyes, and for caring about Mexico.
It’s a warm, sunny day here in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico. Temps are in the mid-70’s Fahrenheit and there’s a breeze. It will get down to 52 degrees tonight. A perfect day to welcome Baby Jesus to the world here in the southern part of North America.
Resting on a satin pillow is Baby Jesus, taken from his church altar to the Last Posada
There’s a band playing at the December 23-24 posada house and I can hear it across the village. At unpredictable moments, a firecracker will go skyward to boom in a blast that sounds like one shot has been fired. Tonight is La Ultima Posada, the last posada for 2017.
Procession of villagers with candles, a church official with copal incense burner
This morning I went to the market early, at 8:30 a.m. Ojala! It was a miracle, since I usually never get out of the house much before 10:00 a.m. Parking was scarce and I could hear a band on the street between the market and the church. It called to me. I hurried. Whenever a band plays here, you know there is something going on.
The band behind the moving altar plays energetic Sousa-style music
Baby Jesus had just been taken from his resting place in the church, an antique carved and gilded wooden figure. He was on a pillow held by a young woman who walked under a portable tent held upright by four stanchions and strong men to hold the posts.
The procession formed to pass through the major streets of Teotitlan del Valle on the way to place Baby Jesus in his birthplace at La Ultima Posada.
Delegation playing solemn music out front, led by wood carved Zapotec flute
The street was perfumed by copal incense, giving off smoke and a sweet aroma of burning sap, so essential to ancient Zapotec ceremonial tradition.
As the procession descended down Avenida Constitucion from the Zocalo along a steep cobblestone incline, I said to myself that I wish I had worn sturdier shoes. Nevertheless, I was able to keep up to get these photos to share with you.
Important family members of the posada host process with candles
Then, I went back uphill to the market to do my holiday food shopping. Tonight, I’m invited to the home of Hugo and Malena. I’m holding weekly English conversation meetings with their teenage son and daughter. They asked me to join them for Christmas Eve dinner, which usually doesn’t start here until around midnight. Not sure I can stay up that late. It’s pretty quiet around here on Christmas Day.
Back up the hill to the market and church zocalo
Enjoy this time of peace, reflection, calm and tranquility. The winter solstice brings us darkness, where we want to hover close with family and friends, take stock of our year and think about longer, warmer days ahead. I think of this as a metaphor for all the possibilities that life can bring us.
Blessings to all.
Norma Schafer, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico, December 24, 2017
From the village market, a view of the church steeples
Women buy field flowers for their aroma, akin to the past
I take home a bundle of sunflowers in the spirit of joy
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
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