Chapter II: The Wedding Ceremony, Saturday Afternoon, August 1, 2015
Almost every seat was filled and people were standing in the back of the small, simple Iglesia de Dios in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico, waiting for the wedding of Rosa and Abraham to begin.
They were waiting for Rosa to appear on the arm of her escort in her white gown, the vision of beauty that all brides convey on their wedding day.
We all love this moment, which reminds us of the promise of new life together, where dreams can be realized with that special someone we have chosen to be with now and forever. Abraham stood on the dais ready to greet her, serious and probably nervous, like most grooms around the world. His parents escorted him there, hugged him, gave him a private message of well-being and returned to their seats.
Abraham’s uncle welcomed the guests to the church.
Rosa’s parents couldn’t be with us because her dad is suffering from acute diabetes, so a good friend stepped in to escort her down the aisle.
A band of young instrumentalists played guitar, drums and electric keyboard to the soprano voice of a young woman who captured our attention, gave us pause to reflect about the union we would witness.
The wedding ceremony included and prayer, a hominy given by a pastor who came from Cuernavaca, and rituals familiar to most marriage ceremonies around the world, with the sharing of rings, joining of hands, kisses, tears, laughter, relief and celebration.
During the ceremony, the pastor acknowledged the absence of Rosa’s parents and Rosa thanked them publicly for their love and support. There were many emotional moments when they were mentioned and missed.
You may notice that the church décor is simple, without the gilded religious symbolism that is so widespread in Mexico, sometimes equal to Spanish cathedrals. With the Spanish conquest came the priests and the will to construct glorious edifices.
Conquest and conversion go hand-in-hand with human history as people act out “my god is better than your god.”
This look, on the right, says it all. Wow, we did it!
I’m not exactly certain, but this may be one of two or three Christian churches in the village that seem to co-exist side-by-side with the Catholic majority, with respect and brotherhood. Many have the same family roots that go deep.
After the ceremony, we lingered in the church courtyard to congratulate the bride and groom, and offer salutations of congratulations. Everyone waited in the hot sun to greet these two wonderful young people with strong values who love each other and are committed to building a life together.
It was an exceptionally beautiful Teotitlan del Valle summer day, with big puffy white clouds against an iridescent blue sky. It was shimmering and hot. Adults and children ran to the ice cream cart out front for a cooling refreshment as others waited in the receiving line.
The afternoon sun cast strong shadows and even with Lightroom correction, the photos have some glare – please forgive me! But this will give you the idea of this wonderfully happy occasion.
Congratulations, Rosa and Abraham! Let the party begin. Next Chapter, the fiesta.
- As is tradition here, the groom and his family fund the entire cost of the wedding, including the bride’s dress. The bride comes to live with her husband and his family in their home, often joining an extended family of siblings, spouses and children.
- There are Protestant missionaries from the United States working in Mexico who represent many denominations. They are especially active in rural Oaxaca and Chiapas, where poverty, lack of access to education and health care are high.
- Some say the missionary movement in Mexico contributes to the erosion of indigenous culture and religious values. Others say it keeps families intact by prohibiting alcohol use while offering a more emotional connection. A positive by-product is a reduction in family violence, usually stress related.
- It takes me about 6 hours to prepare the photos and write the narrative for a blog post like this, plus dealing with really poor internet connections, which I why I’m now down to publishing once or twice a week!
As you read this, please keep in mind that I am an observer, not an academic scholar. There are many academics who have researched and written widely about the topics mentioned here. And, because I was not born into this culture, I am not privy to all the nuances that permeate and underlie relationships. I do know that by suspending judgment and being open to all possibilities, while supporting people to reach their greatest dreams, my life is enriched.
Photography Workshop in Chiapas, Mexico–January 2016
Voladores Fly in Cuetzalan del Progreso, Puebla, Mexico. So Do Bees!
Everything leading up to October 3 in Cuetzalan del Progreso is a preview for what’s to come. This is the day each year that the Voladores fly: Danza de Voladores.
When the Voladores fly, everyone pays attention. They are 120 feet high.
There is a huge carnival in the church courtyard and troupes of costumed, masked revelers come in from the villages to dance, sing and raise some hoopla.
Masked revelers dance in church courtyard and before the altar inside
Handmade beeswax candles adorn the church altar in huge displays of tiered confection, just like wedding cakes. The colors dazzle.
Handmade candles adorn the church, stacked like a tiered wedding cake
On October 4, the queen of the festival is crowned. Cuetzalan is packed with people, a few extranjeros (foreigners), visitors from other parts of Mexico, and lots of locals who come in from mountain villages by colectivos (shared taxis) and camionetas (truck transport).
Wedding cake hand-crafted beeswax candles, Cuetzalan church
The town square becomes a puesto (open market stalls) with alleys of textiles, beaded necklaces made from local coffee beans and seed pods, roasted corn on a stick layered with mayonnaise and chili, carved wood masks, sizzling comals (griddles).
Voladores circle the pole 52 times, in keeping with the Aztec calendar, before climbing
Hawkers, mostly the ancient ones, sell armadillo shell purses (yes, I bought one), gourd water jugs (I bought one, too), woven fiber bags (passed), wild mint (poleo) candies guaranteed to cure stomach ache (yes, though I didn’t have a stomach ache).
Four topple in unison, one stays aloft playing a pre-Hispanic flute
You can sidle up to a portable comedor (kitchen) to eat tacos, tamales, chicken with mole, squash blossom quesadillas. Thirsty? How about fresh fruit waters made with watermelon, cantaloupe, papaya, oranges.
Young men learn to become Voladores very early, practicing, practicing
It’s hard to keep your money in your pocket!
Candles that will become part of the church altar to celebrate on October 3
The day before, Merry Foss took us to the famous candlemaker Eugenio Mendez Nava, whose family makes beeswax candles for church celebrations. He is a national treasure and won the Grand Prize in the 2016 National Folk Art Competition.
Grand master of beeswax candles, Eugenio Mendez Nava, prepares for celebration.
We hopped on a colectivo to get to his workshop outside of town. We saw the preparations for the October 3 church celebrations in the making, were awed by the size of the candles, the intricacy of the molds, the bees swarming around the opening to the clay pot hives that were tucked into the workshop corner.
Makings of the church tiered wedding cake candle extravaganza
Fresh, wild honey is sold all over Cuetzalan. Here’s what the hives look like. Different from the white boxes we see all over the U.S. I imagine that Puebla people use the resources that are easiest to make and keep for beehives.
Clay beehives at the candlemaking workshop of Eugenia Mendez Nava
Birdcage in the workshop of candlemaker Eugenio Mendez Nava
There are multiple groups of Voladores flyers. Some of them are women, and why not. Courage and fortitude know no gender (as we move into the final days of the election in the United States of America).
Inside the church, at the altar, a frenzy of dance movement, drum beating
They start flying at around 4 p.m. on October 3 and continue until after dark. At twilight, groups of dancers and costumed revelers come into the plaza, tooting horns, flutes, singing, beating drums. They go in and out of the church, dancing at the altar, seeking blessings.
A whirlwind of color. No one stood still. I’m thinking blurry could be okay!
In the naves, young men stopped to take a breath, take a drink, fix broken decorations, tie shoe laces, and give each other the Mexican handshake — first brushing open palms together, then giving each other a bump with the closed fist.
Repairing the feather headdress before joining into the next blessing dance.
Meanwhile, outside, the next set of Voladores assembled ready to climb the pole. Humans in flight, spinning, ribbons fly in the wind, arms wide, feet wrapped around the rope, upside down, a several minute suspension.
Climbing a wood and rope ladder high into the sky
There were not many foreign visitors here. Is it because people are afraid to come to Mexico. We took a 6-hour bus ride from Mexico City to get to Cuetzalan. A perfectly safe adventure. And, then a 4-hour bus ride from Cuetzalan to Puebla. Also, very safe. See what you are missing?
The next group of Voladores waiting their turn.
The flying men gather in prayer before climbing the pole.
Soft landing, upside down, but he’ll turn over soon enough!
The eagle has landed!
As night descended, Barbara and I left the church. There was a light drizzle that turned to a gentle rain. The scene was obscure, dramatic, filled with shadows of retreating people. This region is tropical, damp and lush. We don’t go anywhere without an umbrella!
Our evening ends amid the rain drops and shadows of retreating dancers
How to Get There: From Mexico TAPO bus station, take the ADO bus to Cuetzalan del Progreso, Pueblo. Cost is about $20 USD. Trip length: 6 hours.
Where to Stay: Casa la Piedra, Cuetzalan del Progreso.
How to Return: From Cuetzalan buy a bus ticket at the new bus station in town on the Via line to Puebla CAPU. Cost is about $16 USD. Trip length: 4 hours.
How to Get From Puebla to Mexico City: Buy a bus ticket on Estrella Roja leaving Puebla every 30 minutes to the Mexico City airport, direct. Cost: About $16 USD. Trip length: 2.5 hours.
Where to Stay in Puebla: Hotel Casareyna is one of our favorites! They have a new addition and can accommodate many more guests. Sublime luxury. Try Bookingdotcom for bargain prices available.
Posted in Cultural Commentary, Photography, Travel & Tourism
Tagged Aztecs, beeswax, candles, church, Coffee, Cuetzalan del Progreso, dance, Eugenio Mendez Nava, fiesta, flyers, Merry Elizabeth Foss, Mexico, Puebla, ritual, textiles, Voladores