The line cues along the mountain path that leads to two hillside cave/altars beyond the town. It is said that the virgin appeared here and each year on New Year’s Eve and extending through New Year’s Day, the townspeople pay tribute to a miracle that happened longer ago than anyone can remember. The altar cave is a shrine. Those in line hold velacitas, little votive candles that will burn for 24 hours after they are lit at the altar. A plate filled with pesos and an occasional dollar bill contains the tribute for prayers waiting to be answered. It is 4 p.m. and soon it will be dusk. Federico’s sister arrives just after we do. Behind her is another friend, Alejandrina and her two children. We contribute our pesos, say our wishes (shhh, don’t tell or it won’t come true), and climb the rocky hillside, past the small sanctuary nestled into the mountainside, past the brass band playing on the concrete bandstand, past the atole vendors, makeshift taquerias and pan dulce tiendas spread out from the back of pick-ups and mini-vans. We pick our way around clusters of families who have built their dreams represented by the stones they gather from the mountainside, construction elaborate mini-houses that they wish for. We climb a little further, find Federico’s mother and the extended family, and start our own stone constructions nearby. Even in wishes and dreams, families congregate and stay together.
There must be 3,000 people on the hillside. The sunset is coming and I scramble to collect rocks. Five year old Lupita, Federico and Dolores’ niece, helps by bringing handfuls. Sam gets on her knees and pitches in. We help Federico and Dolores build a small but sturdy structure. Lupita continues to bring rocks. I ask her to find grasses so we can make a roof. Bonfires on the opposite hill illuminate the horizon. The sunset is spectacular and we can see the silhouettes of crowds of people against the fiery red sky. People begin to put small votive candles inside their “homes” and there is a miniature village laid out before me, all warm and sparkly. The fireworks begin, and teenagers are throwing fireballs into the sky. I am offered a sweet crackly sweet tortilla that tastes like a cracker. Everyone is eating this, so I do, too. Another family up the hill has added 7 toy mini-cars to their garage, and adorned the landscape with branches that look like trees. Yet another has created a barnyard with teeny plastic toy animals. These are dreams of abundance. These are metaphors for a satisfying and peaceful life. The structure of a house represents many things and the symbolism can extend beyond the dream of a new casa or a garage full of cars. This is a ritual that reaffirms hopes and dreams for a prosperous new year.
I surmise from what Eric has recounted, that Las Cuevitas is a pre-Hispanic New Year tradition that has carried over and been included in local Catholic village life. The power of wishes is very strong. The power of prayer is proven medically to heal people faster. The warmth and glow of Las Cuevitas, the uniting of families in dreams and wishes for the future is a power to behold.