Postcard from San Martin Tilcajete, Mexico: Chaotic Carnaval ushers in Lent

Not sure how the Oaxacan town of San Martin Tilcajete, known for its colorful and imaginative alebrije creatures, ended up with such an unusual wild and wacky celebration of Fat Tuesday, but it definitely is fun.

Instead of traditional Mardi Gras royalty, a bride and groom united in a mock ceremony reign over the festival. The bride is always a man dressed in drag and fittingly attired in an elegant white gown.

An ancient Aztec codice illustrated a tri-legged pot holding the head and drumstick of a turkey as part of ancient wedding ceremonies, and this has evolved through the centuries into the groom bearing a live turkey for his intended. Perhaps the gobbler is one as lucky as the one receiving a presidential Thanksgiving pardon in El Norte? Probably not.

But what if the bride feels reluctant to accept a whole live turkey? Suppose she considers it an evil harbinger of death?

Exuberant parade participants winding their way through the town’s streets are all male. Some in drag, but most favor a more minimal bare-chested look and to coat themselves in slimy oil – los aceiteros. Masks transform men into tigers, Aztec warriors, grim reapers, devils or whimsical alebrijes.

Clanging cencerros, or cowbells, encircling their waists disrupt more synchronized sounds of tubas and drums. The procession becomes progressively more erratic due to frequent refueling stops for gulps of mezcal.

Los aceiteros tag bystanders with their excess oil. Generally, permission is asked of those from afar, but avoiding a few errant smears as you intermingle with the crowd is nearly impossible. One female visitor elected to go whole hog, covering herself in proffered oil while taking multiple sips of their freely shared mezcal.

While there are a few more tourists than when we attended seven years ago, Carnaval still seems an event for locals. What amazes me is the hospitality extended to gringos. Men constantly offer small plastic cups of mezcal or Coronitas to you. Residents of San Martin Tilcajete embrace visitors not as an invasive species but as welcome guests invited to their party.

3 thoughts on “Postcard from San Martin Tilcajete, Mexico: Chaotic Carnaval ushers in Lent”

  1. What fun! So glad you are back in the saddle, Gayle! 7 degrees here this am and 6 inches of new snow. Ugh.

    Enjoy your return to all the things that you love! Lili and Ned PS Loved the planets aligned over the MIster’s head. What a clear night sky!


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Shannon of Casita Colibri sent me scrambling through the photos we took, and I didn’t spot one woman in the processions. Somehow, we completely missed them. We did encounter numerous women in the cooking area preparing vats of chicken liver stew for Wednesday morning, but I left convinced the Carnaval celebration pageantry still was all-male. Happy to learn from her post today that women are now liberated to join the ranks of the devils.


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