Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Fiestas, Holidays and all those celebrations!!!!.....

Mexico is known as a happy country, in fact studies shown among the world's citizens that it figures among the happiest in the world. So if you figure in the poverty rates, lack of education and opportunities, no services in some places and more.... must be something along the lines of what Abraham Lincoln said about it "Happiness is making up your mind to BE happy".... or s Bobby Farin's song said "Don't worry, be happy".... I must admit to some jealousy towards some neighbors of ours when we lived in Merida. They had a pretty rustic house, many people lived there (couldn't have been comfortable) and they only had 1 bathroom (OMG!), the daughters lived there with their kids, were unemployed and divorced, the males were drunks and "machos" BUT they had parties all the time with very loud music, drunken fights, tears, maing up and sometimes even "Conga" lines (yep...) and had good 'ol time most of the time too. Anything was a cause for celebration.... so you could say they made the best of their situation and would count towards this study's results I guess.

Here, there are at least 5,000 known festivities in our annual calendar! Among these figure civic, historic, popular and last but no least all the festivities held by the Church. This is the reason you frequently run into a fiesta... or hear one in your part of town.
While most of us are somewhat familiar with the Church celebrations (at least those of us that grew up Catholic, that is....) and the major historic events that are sometimes also celebrated within US borders.... my interest is more for those unfamiliar to us and a great deal more interesting since they come from our Prehispanic roots and are Mayan, Aztec, etc.

Take for instance the Popol Vuh, containing mythological narratives and a genealogy of the rulers of the Mayan Empire and has an amazing Creation Theory:

The book begins with the creation myth of the K'ichee' Maya, which credits the creation of humans to the three water-dwelling feathered serpents:

There was only immobility and silence in the darkness, in the night. Only the Creator, the Maker, Tepeu, Gucumatz, the Forefathers, were in the water surrounded with light. They were hidden under green and blue feathers, and were therefore called Gucumatz...

and to the three other deities, collectively called "Heart of Heaven":

Then while they meditated, it became clear to them that when dawn would break, man must appear. Then they planned the creation, and the growth of the trees and the thickets and the birth of life and the creation of man. Thus it was arranged in the darkness and in the night by the Heart of Heaven who is called Huracán. The first is called Caculhá Huracán. The second is ChipiCaculhá. The third is Raxa-Caculhá. And these three are the Heart of Heaven.

who together attempted to create human beings to keep him company.

Their first attempts proved unsuccessful. They attempted to make man of mud, but man could neither move nor speak. After destroying the mud men, they tried again by creating wooden creatures that could speak but had no soul or blood and quickly forgot him. Angered over the flaws in his creation, they destroyed them by tearing them apart. In their final attempt, the “True People” were constructed with maize. The following is an excerpt of this myth:

They came together in darkness to think and reflect. This is how they came to decide on the right material for the creation of man. ... Then our Makers Tepew and Q'uk'umatz began discussing the creation of our first mother and father. Their flesh was made of white and yellow corn. The arms and legs of the four men were made of corn meal.
Following this maize tendency is clear to see why so many celebrations deal with the agricultural calendar and all things relating to this. Since there are 2 seasons: dry period and rainy period, this is also a factor and so you find rituals dealing with making it rain, stopping the rain, better crops, thanking the Gods for crops, making amends for no crops, etc. Plus we all know that when the Spaniards came in order for the natives to accept the "true faith", they decided to suplant our celebrations with theirs (same thing Constantine did when creating the Christian faith) making paganism into Christianism and leaving the places, dates and basic tenets similar.

According the the Aztecs, their year began round the 2nd of February and this relates to the "Fiesta de la Candelaria" which were celebrations to Tláloc, God of Rain, his sister Chalchiuhtlicue, Goddess of Water and Quetzalcóatl, God of Wind. (Tlaloc to the right, Quetzalcoatl is the first image on this page).

It is the custom on Feb. 2nd to eat tamales and atole on this day (which we still do) but this isn't just a simple gastronomic whim since these are made from maize or corn and were always offered to the Gods. In Morelos for instance, you offer tamales (called tlaconextamalli) which are blessed, shared with the faithful and some are then taken to a nearby hill where they are left in a cave and they pray for rain. They then take an image of the Virgin of the Candelaria on a procession to Tetecala (a nearby town) where she is met with music, fireworks and dance.

So many celebrations entail tamales too, i.e: those made from Huanzontle Seed are special during Easter Week while Anis ones are offered on the Day of the Dead.... There are sweet ones, salty ones and savory ones and all regions of Mexico have their own type of tamales. (I could write several columns with dishes made from masa... there are sooo many)

Following the calendar we would come to Mardi Gras or Carnaval time, and according to old Roman times it was believed that the Gods had created the world from an acquatic chaos and in order to be reborn, obviously, it was necessary to return to the origins of it all, chaos, and to them this meant through the rites implicit in the carnaval orgies.... (who hoo... those Romans were die hard partiers). Of course the church tried to assimilate these celebrations as much as they could and to this date we see Mardi Gras preceeding Lent (first you sin, then you pay for it)

However to the Mayans and Aztecs, carnaval had a deep religious meaning since it corresponded to the Nemonei and Chailk'in or the 5 "lost days" in the calendar. Their celebrations had dance and ritual combat as themes yet these celebrations mixed with the europeans ones following the conquest which then gave us the dances, costumes and masks so popular now and found in all carnavals. The lost days belong to the days between the end and beginning of the calendars when the Mother fire was extinguished, leaving the world in darkness, and a new rebirth would follow (if the fire didn't fail as punishment)- this too would then correspond to the 2012 date being given by historians when they mention the end of the calendar signaling the end of the world. It's simply the end of the 52 year clycle when rebirth or new era should then start.

Many Carnavals have dances and celebrations relating to the history of the people and we have those giving different "takes" on the conquest, parodies of the French Intervention, dressing men as women signaling ridicule of foreigners, dances with serpents for fertility, purification dances, also those representing the Jews, Christians, Indians, Christ's Passion and others reinforcing of social conduct in all levels of society. There are monkey-men running over burning grass dressed in military regalia and representing the French armies or even those in costume wearing dark glasses making fun of the many tourists "invading" the country.

Lent follows during the month of Hueytozoztli which was dedicated to Cinteotl and Chicomecoatl, or corn husks which are the base of the new seedlings (or rebirth)

Take for example Palm Sunday, when braided palm fronds are sold at churches and are taken for blessing, families put them on their altars all year long and give these plants special powers, like for instance if you burn a little piece of palm it would make the rain stop.

The Spaniards brought the burning of the Judas to us but during the Inquisition this wasn't a Lent
en practice at all since it signified the burning of the fugitives of justice, who even thought they seemed to have evaded justice (physical fire) the fire that would receive them upon arriving in hell would do justice for their sins. Judas has always been the representation of treason and bad people, but it actually meant purification by fire to prepare for a new year which every farmer knows as they prepare for planting. Ever see the "quemas" in Mexico when the lands are burned to clear them so they new plants can be put in? Nature's renewal only. This is also represented by jumping over burning grass.... go figure. In 1853 dictator Santa Ana prohibited these burnings due to him always being the subject being burned.

In olden times and during Lent it was a sin to bathe (part of the sacrifices I guess) so the custom of throwing water to the faithful on Holy Saturday let people know it was ok to bathe now. Yet, in these days of water rat
ioning, this is now a penalized custom in Mexico. The Church has also now allowed bathing during Lent. (They've also forgiven fasts for the elderly and children, flagelation and other radical sacrificies typically found during Lent).

Day of the Holy Cross and celebrations to Tlaloc, Centeotl, Tescatlipoca and Tlaloques are hel
d on the 3rd of May. The cross took the place of Tlaloc, God of rain, and the other deities having to do with agricultural rituals like Centeotl, Goddess of Maiz. The Day of the Holy Cross is celebrated by construction workers and you can see multiple crosses on their sites with food offerings (of course) also a part of the celebrations. This is said to prevent accidents.

On January 17th, San Antonio Abad is celebrated as he is known as the protector of all animals. This is a prehispanic celebration having to do with the blessing of seeds and animals. You adorn your animals with ribbons and they are blessed, yet in the cities where there are no more farm animals, domesti
c pets are brought for this reason. There is another day on May 15th which serves a similar function for San Isidro Labrador's Day, when ox and their carts are brought forth full of seeds and crops for the blessing, naturally this would be in rural areas.

Ending on October 27th we find the Corpus Christy celebrations taking place, another date th
at was taken over by the church and was known as the Tzolk'in Cycle. This is an important date not only in Roman times but for the Greeks, Sirians, Armenians, Spaniards and other areas. Have you ever seen the Dancers of Papantla? (From Veracruz, where the vanilla is from). is a ritualistic dance in Veracruz, Mexico performed by the Totonac Indians and Olmeca Indians. Five men, each representing the five elements of the indigenous world climb atop a pole, one of them stays on the pole playing a flute and dancing while the remaining four descend the pole with a rope tied by one of their feet. The rope unwraps itself 13 times for each of the four flyers, symbolizing the 52 weeks of the year. This dance is thought to be the vestige of a pre-Hispanic volador ritual common not only in ancient Veracruz but in western Mexico as well.

According to legend, a long drought covered the Earth so five men decided to send Xipe Totec, the God of fertility a message, asking them for the rain to return. They went to the forest and looked for the straightest tree, cut it, and took it back to their town. They removed all branches and placed it on the ground, then dressed themselves as feet/birds and descended flying attempting to grab their God's attention.

During the summer to the fall when the rains have done their work and the crops must be safeguarded from the hurricanes, come the festivities of Tlaloc, God of Rain and his more violent representation of Tezcaltlipoca which wears a mask of serpents and is credited for hurricanes, cyclones and lightning. This day was given over to St. John the Baptist with his celebrations close to the fall equinox.

Even those days belonging to Our Lady of Guadalupe or the Virgin Mary used to belong to Aztec deities like the Mother Earth called the Yaxk'in Cycle and thanks were given for bountiful crops with corn stalks being offered in thanks.

Mexico has long had a love affair with death and all it's representations and the celebrations relating to this date is no exception. The month of August or Tlaxochimaco was for dead children while the following month was Xocolohuetzin for the dead adults.

The Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico can be traced back to the indigenous Olmec, Zapotec, Mixtec, Mexican or Aztec, Maya, P'urhépecha, and Totonac. Rituals celebrating the deaths of ancestors have been observed by these civilizations perhaps for as long as 2500–3000 years. In the pre-Hispanic era, it was common to keep skulls as trophies and display them during the rituals to symbolize death and rebirth.

The festival that became the modern Day of the Dead fell in the ninth month of the Aztec calendar, about the beginning of August, and was celebrated for an entire month. The festivities were dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl, known as the "Lady of the Dead," corresponding to the modern Catrina. (See the Catrina at left).

Many people believe that during the Day of the Dead, it is easier for the souls of the departed to visit the living. People go to cemeteries to communicate with the souls of the departed, and build private altars, containing the favorite foods and beverages, as well as photos and memorabilia, of the departed. The intent is to encourage visits by the souls, so that the souls will hear the prayers and the comments of the living directed to them. Celebrations can take a humorous tone, as celebrants remember funny events and anecdotes about the departed; some get drunk to celebrate the deceased. Our "dead" are always made part of our day to day lives and are never forgotten since they are always included in all celebrations since death is just another part of our lives.

Even Christmas has been taken over since we had the feast of Panquetzaliztli celebrating the birth of Huitzilopochtli at that time.
huitzilin is the Nahuatl word for hummingbird), was a god of war, a sun god, and the patron of the city of Tenochtitlan. He was also the national god of the Mexicas of Tenochtitlan. (I'll write on Tenochtitlan after...)

His mother was Coatlicue, and his father was a ball of feathers (or, alternatively, Mixcoatl). His sister was Malinalxochitl, a beautiful sorceress, who was also his rival. His messenger or impersonator was Paynal.

The legend of Huitzilopochtli is recorded in the Mexicayotl Chronicle. His sister, Coyolxauhqui, tried to kill their mother because she became pregnant in a shameful way (by a ball of feathers). Her offspring, Huitzilopochtli, learned of this plan while still in the womb, and before it was put into action, sprang from his mother's womb fully grown and fully armed. He then killed his sister Coyolxauhqui and many of his 500 brothers. He tossed his sister's head into the sky, where it became the moon, so that his mother would be comforted in seeing her daughter in the sky every night. He threw his other brothers and sisters into the sky, where they became the stars.

Panquetzaliztli (7 December to 26 December) was the Aztec month dedicated to Huitzilopochtli. People decorated their homes and trees with paper flags; there were ritual races, processions, dances, songs, prayers, and finally human sacrifices. This was one of the more important Aztec festivals, and the people prepared for the whole month. They fasted or ate very little; a statue of the god was made with amaranth (huautli) seeds and honey, and at the end of the month, it was cut into small pieces so everybody could eat a little piece of the god. Because of its similarities to the Catholic mass, after the conquest the amaranth cultives were outlawed,(which it's why it's not as popular as maize even though it's more nutritious and is associated with the "mana" God sent during the Exodus or "food from the Gods) while some of the festivities were subsumed into the Christmas celebration.

According to the Ramirez Codex, in Tenochtitlan circa sixty prisoners were sacrificed at the festivities. Sacrifices were reported to be made in other Aztec cities, including Tlatelolco, Xochimilco, and Texcoco, but the number is unknown, and no currently available archeological findings confirm this.

For the reconsecration of Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan in 1487, dedicated to Tlaloc and Huitzilopochtli, the Aztecs reported that they sacrificed about 80,400 prisoners over the course of the celebrations.

As you can see there are lots of festivities which were already in place but taken over by the church when the Spaniards "found us".... (we weren't lost after all...), and decided to impose their beliefs on us which is a typical procedure among invadors to make assimilation more easily accepted. Kind of makes you wonder about the validity of many of our beliefs, doesn't it?

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