Happiest holidays to you and yours! I hope you celebrate the beauty of life with family and friends — ’tis the season for peace, thanksgiving, and recommitment to relationships. Out here on the Rio Grande Gorge Mesa, the sun is bright, the air is chilly, and the skies are clear and clean. All promising a season of joy. Most importantly, may we all have a year ahead filled with good health and renewal of spirit.
Tonight, we will go to the Taos Pueblo for a traditional Christmas Eve celebration Native American-style with bonfires and dancing. My son and daughter-in-law arrive soon from Albuquerque for the festivities. Then, afterward we will join lifelong friends Karen, Steve and their family for Phase 1 of the Holiday Feast. Phase 2 is tomorrow, when the cooking extravaganza lead by Marc, with Carl and Steve at the helm, will culminate with the Mega-Feast. I’ve never participated before, but its a family tradition they have been doing for over twenty-five years.
Meanwhile, tonight in Oaxaca marks the Ultimate Posada, the night that the baby Jesus appears at the last stop on the nine-day search for lodging. (The nine days is symbolic of nine months of pregnancy). As many of you know, the Posada is a re-enactment of Joseph and Mary’s search for a place to sleep as they make their way to Bethlehem to pay end-of-year taxes. We all know the story: the inns along the way were full and they ended up sleeping in a manger where their child was born. I know the Teotitlan del Valle posada best since it is where I live, too. Usually, in years past, I have left the USA for Oaxaca in time to walk alongside villagers in solemn, candlelit procession as the church leadership carry carved figures of Mary and Joseph throughout the village on palanquin. Cohetes (firecrackers) burst at regular intervals. Altar boys lead the way with huge candle pillars and the priest swings the incense carrier that emits that wonderfully evocative smokey aroma of burning copal. Of course, there is musical accompaniment — the pre-Hispanic flute takes the lead with traditional musicians just behind. They alternate with the village brass band that plays music akin to John Phillips Sousa. The solemnity is punctuated by festivity.
So, tonight in Teotitlan, the biggest Christmas celebration occurs. The last procession usually begins at sunset. When the procession arrives at the home of the host family, there are blessings in the altar room and the Baby Jesus appears on a soft pillow. Feasting and drinking carry on throughout the night with plenty of barbecue, tortillas, and mezcal. In the morning, the host family will provide food to their guests that include hot chocolate and higadito (scrambled eggs with chicken in chicken broth). Tomorrow, everyone will be home with their family for a comida of tamales amarillo!
‘Tis the season to celebrate, reflect and, of course, eat, drink and be merry. There is much to be thankful for as 2021 comes to and end, and the days lengthen. If we are fully vaccinated (meaning two jabs and the booster), we are told we can safely congregate with family and friends who are also fully vaccinated. We have lived to see the day.
For the past week, in the Oaxaca village of Teotitlan del Valle, where I live, the Christmas posadas have been revived. The bands play, there is mucha comida (lots of food), mucha mezcal and cerveza. Villagers gather every evening from December 15 to 24 at around 8 p.m. to accompany the procession that takes Jesus and Mary from one host domicile to the next, until La Ultima Posada, Christmas Eve, when Baby Jesus is born at midnight.
Tradition here is that families gather at home for a midnight supper to welcome in their Savior. It’s likely my family who I will have supper with tonight may not be able to stay awake until midnight. I’m praying for a 9 p.m. dinner so I can get to bed at a semi-reasonable hour. Tradition gets adapted when necessary.
The village market was bustling today with locals picking up last minute gifts and decorations for home altars and creches. There were more campesinos than usual from the mountain villages more than an hour away. They were selling locally grown wildflowers, mosses, pine cones, orchids, and syrupy sweet stewed crabapples. This time of year features a sweet fruit punch flavored with cinnamon, apples, sugar which is similar to a mulled cider.
These are times to be with family and dear friends, when we can.
I wish you and yours a healthy new year, with deepest thanks and appreciation for continuing to read what I write and for your support of the artisans we feature here.
On behalf of all of. us at Oaxaca Cultural Navigator, Happy Holidays,
Happy, Merry Holidays to all friends and acquaintances, virtual and concrete. I’m winding down my short North Carolina visit and return to Oaxaca on December 24 in time for Christmas Eve village festivities — a midnight supper with extended family.
This year (2018) I received Season’s Greetings letters from long-time friends, written, duplicated, personally signed and mailed to me via the USPS, one accompanied by a family photo complete with obedient dog. It’s catch-up time for those of us who live far away or who have been out of touch for a while.
Usually, the update includes what grades the kids are in (for those still raising them), favorite sports and hobbies for all, everyone’s accomplishments, and far-and-away travel destinations reached. Reports are glowing.
One friend, closer in age to me, included a year of what’s ailing her and her husband, and their dwindling animal menagerie. I’m commiserating from my easy chair. This has been a year-end filled with ailments.
I’ve never written and sent one of these letters. Today, I can barely remember what I did ten or eleven months ago and I don’t keep a database of everyone who has touched me in my life. My co-dependence on technology is palpable.
This is so different from Mexico, where most families and friends still live in close proximity and see each other regularly, sharing in family celebrations, participating in the raising of infants and children, attending birthdays, baptisms, marriages and funerals. Yet, they are becoming dispersed now, too, as young adults seek jobs in faraway cities, often across borders. Do they stay in touch with a holiday letter? I doubt it.
This prompted me to think about the year in review and the year to come. And to give you a more personal note of communication.
Before I left Oaxaca for my short return to North Carolina, Itzel Guadalupe aka Lupita asked me what my intentions were for 2019. She had already begun to think about hers: weave and sell five rugs, learn English, study harder to qualify for high school and then college, maybe visit the USA — with my help, she added! And, why not?
And, I wondered in self-reflection, Is it more important to go over the year past or to focus on the year to come? As a historian, I’ve decided to do a little of both. We must learn what came before in order to build on the future, no?
I went back and forth from Oaxaca and the USA six times and made no across the water journeys to foreign lands. Instead, I visited family in California, and friends in New Mexico, Colorado, North Carolina, Chicago and Philadelphia, making a commitment to sustaining relationships. I developed a new folk art and textile tour to Michoacan upcoming in 2019 that includes visiting the environmentally fragile Monarch butterfly colony. I didn’t read enough. I joined and dropped out of several online dating sites after several unsuccessful attempts at connection. It’s hard to be consistent living a bimodal life.
I helped Omar Chavez Santiago get a 10-year visa and brought him to North Carolina on two separate occasions for rug exhibitions and sales. I made a doggie patio and started walking 10,000+ steps four or five times a week with the four-legged ones. I kept up with writing Oaxaca Cultural Navigator blog and taking photographs. In late summer, I was contacted by an editor compiling stories for a book about women from the USA who choose to live in Mexico. She invited me to contribute and I dug deep about why I live in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca. That led me to realize the value and importance to me of this commitment and decided it was time to move forward to apply for a permanent resident visa, which I got in November.
It was never in my wildest dreams that I thought I would ever get a parasite, but it took a Oaxaca gastroenterologist to diagnose me after several tests in NC that gave me a clean bill of health. I learned a lot about microbiota, the digestive system, and gut health. I’m getting better. Seems this is a more common occurrence for both Mexicans and transplants than is talked about.
As the year winds down and I’m regaining energy, I also think about what’s in store for 2019 and what lies beyond in 2020. I’ve always liked to revisit this question at my December 31 birthday, now a number I only fretted about becoming long ago. More important now than before, it seems. So, here’s what I’m thinking:
2019 is pretty much locked in:
Oaxaca Coast Textile Tour in mid-January
Michoacan Folk Art Tour and Butterfly Sanctuary in early February
Chiapas Textile Tour at the end of February
Personal textile exploration with my sister to Japan in late March
Oaxaca Day of the Dead Women’s Writing Retreat
Reuniting with family and friends in Durham, California and beyond
2019 Morphing Into 2020 Intentions:
Offer fewer long-distance textile travel programs, reducing the number of winter trips from three to two
Stay closer to home; perhaps focus on a mix of local experiences: folk and contemporary art, textiles, pottery, mezcal, jewelry making, cooking, etc.
Survey Oaxaca Cultural Navigator followers to determine which TWO places in Mexico to visit in 2020 — new or repeat
Accelerate my own personal investigation of international textiles, and perhaps invite a small group to join me
Continue to reconnect with family and friends wherever they are
Love and appreciate nature, walk the campo with the dogs
Celebrate life, the beauty of Mexico and her people, the gritty streets of Durham, North Carolina
Stay politically active and committed to change without burnout
Practice “life begins at the end of your comfort zone” and stretch, but differently, with more intention, slower, easier
I wish for each of you a holiday of satisfying abundance with family and friends, of peace and a year of good health ahead. Prosperity is the blessing of life, deep breath and contentment. More to come in the New Year.
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.
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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Eric Chavez Santiago is Zapotec, born and raised in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca.
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