Postcard from Guanajuato, Mexico: Festival of the Virgin of Loreto

Dancers pranced to beats of drums and high-pitched flutes all day yesterday in a street below the house where we are staying. We’re not sure it is an official holy day, but the neighborhood participants treat it as such.

Flowers adorned the altar in the Capilla Santa Casa de Loreto, dedicated to the Annunciation in the home the Virgin inhabited when the angel Gabriel revealed her impending delivery of El Nino. While Candelaria in January is regarded as the holy day when the faithful bring their small Nino statues dressed in new finery to churches for blessing, in Guanajuato the ceremony is replicated in front of the altar during this festive event marking the anniversary of the consecration of the chapel in 1854. Although some let me peek inside their baskets, we didn’t feel comfortable asking anyone for permission to photograph the lacily attired Ninos they cradled so proudly.

And, of course, music, food and firecrackers warmed up the crowd in advance of the major pyrotechnical displays at 9 o’clock. The experts toiled to assemble a monumental castillo of fireworks throughout the afternoon.

We were viewing the altar when the shrill sounds of the whirling wheels of light first began. Along with many of those heeding the call to exit the church, we watched from the steps. The Mister began filming with the camera.

First lesson learned: Do not hold the camera vertically when shooting because we do not have the software downloaded to rotate it 90 degrees. For this reason, the images of the fireworks were snatched from frames of the video and turned for viewing.

Second lesson: When a lone bombero appears beside you in fireproof clothing, lowers his visor and nervously glances upward, MOVE. Even if relocating means you must stop filming just as the swirling halo of the announcing angel perched atop the castillo rockets upward into the dark night sky.

Cascades of sparkling fireworks showered down upon us from the rooftop of Capilla Santa de Loreto. This display was followed by the finale of explosions of light set off above. The video captures some of the first sparkling showers.

Postcard from Oaxaca, Mexico: Bite the baby; throw the party

three-kingsThe pair of skinny Santas on stilts (I know; I don’t comprehend their significance either.) who roamed the plaza in front of the Cathedral around Christmas have been replaced by itinerant trios of kings soliciting tips for family photos. This troupe was the only one around bearing gifts for Baby Jesus accompanied by the beasts (well, sort of) originally transporting them to the manger in Bethlehem on January 6.

Epiphany was always a holy day of obligation when I was growing up, another command day at church which fell within several weeks of a multitude of visits to church. But we weren’t rewarded with cake.

In Mexico, Saint Nicholas traditionally does not arrive bearing gifts for children on Jesus’ birthday. Children have to wait until the day Jesus received his presents – gold, frankincense and myrrh – delivered in tribute to him by the three kings. So, on January 6 in Mexico, Mass is followed by presents and a party with cake – rosca de reyes.

Shannon Costello's rosca de reyes

Shannon Costello’s rosca de reyes

The staff at the Library of the University of Texas at San Antonio has translated, along with helpful baking tips, a traditional kings’ cake recipe from Panes de Levadura by Josefina Velazquez de Leon, part of the collection of Mexican cookbooks, La Cocina Historica.

Not everyone in Oaxaca appears to make these from scratch. Boxes of the rings of cake have been flying off shelves in bakeries all over town.

Hidden inside each is a little figure representing Baby Jesus. If the piece you receive contains the nino, your family has to host the next fiesta specifically for Jesus on the calendar, Candelaria on February 2, or prepare the homemade tamales for the party (Whoa! I prefer the no-strings-attached prize in Cracker Jacks).

Candelaria is when all the Baby Jesuses housed by the faithful in their homes receive new clothes. Then, dressed in appropriate finery, all the little statues are carried to church to be blessed.

Hmmm. What should Jesus wear? Is Oaxaca ready to follow the fashion trends being set in San Cristobal de las Casas? Happy Kings’ Day.

And, if the kings have any gifts in mind for me, of the ancient trio, I’d prefer the gold.