Monday, January 7, 2013

Holiday traditions in Maltrata: Los espejeros

I'm not sure if this one counts as a holiday tradition since it doesn't have to do with Christmas or New Years, but I'll include it anyway since it's in January (and really interesting!): the visit of los espejeros.

los espejeros

Last year the espejeros came to Maltrata on January 7th. Maltrata has an ongoing relationship with the town San Sebastián Cuacnopalan in the state of Puebla. The patron saint there is Saint Sebastian, whose is celebrated on January 20th. Though it’s not exactly clear to me why, a group from Cuacnopalan makes a pilgrimage to Maltrata (on the 7th? the first Saturday? I’m not sure) and then on January 20th a group from Maltrata goes to Cuacnopalan.

los espejeros 

The procession started at the old train station, near the entrance to Maltrata. There were what looked like huehues with masks and costumes, though these also had whips they cracked. They were followed by a band made up of bugles and snare drums. Then came the espejeros, mostly boys and young men with a few girls mixed in who danced (or maybe it would be better to say moved with coordinated steps?) with tall “pyramids” covered in mirrors, colored garland, streamers, flowers and images (of the Virgin Mary? Saint Sebastian? other Saints? I didn’t really get a close look) on their heads. Following the espejeros was a group carrying the banners, the flower arrangements and the image of Saint Sebastian. A few men were setting off fireworks as they went, announcing their arrival.

Here's a video of the procession going by: 

The procession made its way to the church...

...and then there was a mass. 

From there they continued up to the mayordomo’s house, where a large tent, chairs and tables, and a stage had been set up. The mayordomo is the person or group in charge of (most importantly – that pays for) the celebration. There are about 40 different mayordomos for various religious celebrations. Some of the bigger celebrations are for December 12th (Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe) and Holy Week / Easter. The cost to the mayordomo depends on which celebration it is and how many people will be attending. I think people are generally mayordomos for 1 year (in charge of their particular celebration 1 time), though others choose to be the  mayordomo of a particular celebration for life.

tables and chairs set up under the tent for the celebration

image of San Sebastián, flowers, and candles

Everyone ate mixiotes, rice and beans.  Later that evening the band started playing and there was dancing. 

The espejeros put their headpieces back on to dance one more time that evening:

They also danced the baile del guajolote (turkey dance). For the baile del guajolote, one or more baskets are prepared before the celebration. The most important part is the turkey (or two), whose head sticks up out of the basket, secured between decorated dowel rods. At a pre-wedding celebration I attended, I saw a basket filled with a turkey and chicken decorated as a bride and groom. The basket is wrapped and decorated so I have never seen what is inside, but I think food and maybe drink are included as well.

The baskets are gifts. During weddings, they are a gift from the family to the padrinos, who have helped with the wedding. I’m not sure exactly who prepares or eventually recieves it during the relgious celebrations.  

Before anyone recieves the gift though, they have to do the guajalote dance. Generally men dance with the (heavy!) baskets, trading off, and the women dance with incense or flowers. I’ve seen a few times that, after the men have danced for a bit, there’s a call for women to dance with the turkey-filled basket. I danced with the basket that evening – and it was heavy! 

Here's a video of the baile del guajolote:

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Holiday traditions in Maltrata: Three Kings Day

January 6th is el Día de los Reyes Magos, or Three Kings Day / Day of the Wisemen, the day that the three wisemen arrived bearing gifts for the baby Jesus. Traditionally in Maltrata, the 3 wise men are who bring the children’s presents on January 6th, though nowadays Santa frequently leaves a gift on December 25th as well. On January 5th I saw lots of children with balloons that they would attach their letter to and send to the wisemen – similar to letters to Santa I suppose, but slightly more tied into the Biblical story. (Generally for Christians in the US, January 6th is recognized as Epiphany and the day that the Wise Men arrived, though it is not celebrated to the same extent as it is in Maltrata and other parts of Mexico). 

On Three Kings Day, people share a rosca, a bread in the shape of a circle or oval with at least one baby Jesus figurine hidden inside. Whoever finds the baby Jesus in their piece is supposed to provide the tamales and the chocolate (like hot chocolate) or atole (a masa-based drink) for everyone on February 2nd, which is Día de la Candelaria (Candlemas or the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple). 

the rosca 

my little buddy pretending to cut the rosca

Guess who got the baby Jesus in their piece of the rosca

That’s right – me! I said I could buy tamales or help make them, but had no idea how to do it on my own. It didn’t matter though, since we went to the fair in neighboring Aquila on February 2nd anyway.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

December 21st: The "Mayan apocalypse"

Happy New Year! We've made it to 2013, which means we also "survived the Mayan apocalypse." I know I'm way late on writing this, but I haven't quite gotten over all the comments and news I saw about the "failed" apocalypse and how the Mayans were "wrong" (and don't even get me started on the viral Facebook post about believing the Bible instead of the Mayan calendar, as if they were directly quoting and refuting the Mayans).

Well, here's the thing.... they weren't predicting the end of the world. December 21st, 2012 marked the end of a baktun, or a period of 144,000 days. The part about the prophesy of the "end of the world"? That was the media's creation.

NPR had a good story, "Maya Expert: The 'End of Times' Is Our Idea, Not the Ancients'" by Bill Chappell (click the title to be linked to the article), based on an interview with Maya expert David Stuart (see here for the transcript of the on-air interview).

A few highlights from the article:
"The Maya never, ever, said anything about the world ending at any time -- much less this year," says Stuart, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin." 

"It's a big deal -- if you're an ancient Maya astronomer priest," Stuart says. "But apart from that, they didn't say anything about...what will be happening." 

"Stuart and other researchers have compared what's about to happen to the Mayan calendar to an odometer on a well-driven car: The years will simply click over. If the car's odometer runs past its complement of numbers, you can still drive it." 

If you're interested, it's worth a read (or listen)!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Holiday traditions in Maltrata: Huehues

On December 25th and January 1st the huehues (or huehueres, as most people pronounce it) come out in Maltrata. Huhue means "old" or "ancient" in Nahuatl. A group of men and boys dress up and dance around. I saw a huge variety of costumes, including women, devils, Beast from Beauty and the Beast, the Hulk, skeletons, and more. Apparently the typical costumes used to be an indigenous style of dress, but now people dress up as whatever they want and many have masks sent to them or brought back from the US. They dance around to music until the leader rings the bell and they move on to the next spot.

There’s no consistent answer as to why the tradition started, though I heard various explanations including that they represent happiness, they represent the people that were sent to kill baby Jesus, they represent the end of the old year, they bring in the New Year, and that it’s making fun of the Spanish conquistadors.

There were lots of people that came out to see the huehues and followed them as they moved throughout town. I was told they’re given money to dance, though I never saw that happen, and that they use the money for alcohol or they’re given food and/or drink afterward.

lots of people out to see the huehues

I had never seen anything like it before and the family insisted that I dance with them - so I did! 
The video isn't great, but it's proof I was out there with them! 

Holiday traditions in Maltrata: New Year's

Leading up to New Year’s Eve, people display their “viejos” (literally – old men), a scarecrow-like figure that represents the end of the year. 
the viejo at the house

I saw one viejo holding a baby(doll), representing the New Year.

a viejo (representing the old year) holding a baby(doll)
(representing the new year)
The family came over for New Year’s Eve. They toasted to the viejo and then around 11 or 11:30 we went outside to sing the viejo song and then quemar el viejo (burn the viejo), representing the end of the old year so that the new year can begin. The viejo had firecrackers (fireworks?) mixed in with the stuffing, so they go off as it’s burning. 

getting the fire ready to burn the viejo

Here we were singing to the viejo: 

And here burning the viejo: 

At midnight we wished each other a Happy New Year with a hug and set off more fireworks.

Here are some of the fireworks:

Then we headed inside for a toast, dinner (including tamales - yum!), drinks, and dancing! 

New Year's dinner 

Holiday traditions in Maltrata: Los viejitos

From December 25th through 31st people dress up as viejitos, or little old men and women, and go door-to-door dancing and asking for treats or money. Traditionally, they should be dressed as an old man and old woman that represent the end of the year that will “die” soon for the coming of the new year.

There’s a typical song that the viejitos are supposed to sing, but now a lot more dance to popular music played on their cell phone or a portable boom box. My favorite part of the visits from the viejitos became the scolding they would get from the grandmother of the family, who would tell them that it wasn’t the right song or that they didn’t look like they were about to die so she wasn’t going to give them any money or treats.

I’ve been told that in other parts of Veracruz they’re also accompanied by a “doctor” and in the middle of the dancing the old woman lays down on the floor and delivers a baby(doll) that represents the new year.