The fiesta in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, is an annual event, always celebrated the first week in July. This year it continues through July 9. I’m posting the schedule below for those of you in Oaxaca.
This is a festival that honors the village church, Preciosa Sangre de Nuestro Senor Jesucristo. This is a religious event primarily that also includes La Danza de la Pluma (Dance of the Feather), daily masses, an adjacent carnival next to the market (making it impossible to park), fireworks, and lots of parties with tamales and mezcal.
I couldn’t imagine a better homecoming than by celebrating the kick-off event by attending the Desfile de Canastas — Parade of the Baskets — that started yesterday, July 2 at 6 p.m. from the church courtyard.
Young women who have never married are selected by the festival sponsors to hold ornate and heavy baskets on their heads and process about three miles through all the village neighborhoods.
They are solemn. This is serious respect for traditions and religious life. Even three and four-year olds participate, helped by parents. Learning the culture starts young.
How do I know the distance? I clocked it on my FitBit, starting right along with the group of hundreds, including the two bands, the Feather Dancers, the Canasta walkers, church and village officials, children out in front holding whimsical animals atop poles, various relatives and volunteers.
As the parade wound through the village streets through all the five administrative sections, up hill and down, crowds of onlookers assembled at strategic corners. In every neighborhood, I passed people I knew. Since I’ve only returned three days ago, it was an opportunity to greet people and feel welcomed.
This custom of community celebration and mutual support goes back thousands of years in Zapotec life, long before the Spanish arrived to conquer Mexico, name it New Spain, and integrate Catholic rites into already existing spiritual/mystical practice. Today, we call this blending syncretism. Zapotec tradition has very strong roots here.
Tuesday, July 3: The Dance of the Feather will start around 5p.m. in the church courtyard accompanied by the Band, followed by an extravagant fireworks display that usually doesn’t start until 11 p.m.
Wednesday, July 4: The Dance of the Feather starts at 1 p.m. and continues until about 8 p.m.
Thursday, July 5: This is a day of rest.
Friday, July 6: At 6 p.m. there is another procession with the beautiful young women of the village wearing their traditional indigenous dress.
Saturday, July 7: At 4 p.m. the Dance of the Feather dancers meet in the church for a mass, then at 5 p.m. the Dance of the Feather resumes in the church courtyard.
Sunday, July 8: At 11:30 a.m. there is a procession through the village with Los Danzantes, and at 1 p.m. there is a Dance of the Feather ceremony in the church courtyard.
Monday, July 9: The festival ends with an 8 a.m. mass in the church.
The fair (feria) is filled with rides and carnival games — open daily.
All of this is organized and produced by village volunteers. To be a member of the community, one must make a promise to serve. This involves being part of a committee for one to three-years, including the job of village president. Because this is a traditional indigenous Usos y Costumbres village that is self-governing, this is a responsibility by men, women and families who live here.
Committees determine priority projects and moderate conflicts, levy local taxes and make village improvements. Even the police department is based on two-year volunteer service of one week a month — a daytime or nighttime duty.
Quite a marvel in today’s complex, law-driven universe.
I hope you come and enjoy. It’s a wonderful experience to be here.
After the procession returned to the church courtyard, we met for a taco at Buky’s, under the lights of the tent, watching the children racing between the rides, enjoying the chill summer air.