It’s already Revolution Day and I’m still recovering from Day of the Dead festivities November 1-3. For me this year, it encompassed three cemeteries, one featuring a full-blown party with mariachis and another a grave-decorating contest, a belated birthday celebration and guiding an all-day tour to the home a village family to learn about their traditions for the holiday.
I shouldn’t even be surprised any more when the mundane turns to magic. It so often does in Mexico. So when an ordinary, unannounced weekend trip to Tehaucán to visit Tía Raquel y la familia turned into a double blowout fiesta, it was just validation that well, magic happens.
I often forget to note Mexican fiesta days, so it came as a pleasant surprise when José said he’d take a whole day off for Good Friday. I’d been wanting to explore some of the Mixtec area – the land of the “people of the clouds” in its indigenous Nahuatl language — in the area northwest of Oaxaca City, which is a Zapotec region. We packed up José’s VW bug with camp stools, picnics for both breakfast and lunch, my English guidebook and tooled off by 7 a.m. on the cuota, or toll road, towards Nochixtlán (no-cheece-tlan’).
While some of you were waiting on a groundhog to predict whether there would be six more weeks of winter up in el norte, I was eating tamales with a way cool bunch of women in the tiny mountain town of San Miguel de Valle in the eastern Oaxaca valley.
It was actually a double holiday: Constitution Day as far as the government was concerned, and Día de la Candelaria on the Catholic calendar, celebrating the day that Jesus graduated from swaddling and hit the street in real clothes.
December 12 was a big day in Oaxaca. First of all, it was Virgin of Guadalupe Day – the day marking the appearance of the Virgin Mary to indigenous peasant Juan Diego in 1531, a huge deal in this state of 16 different indigenous groups. But it was also one of the few annual presentations of the Danza de la Pluma (Dance of the Feathers) in Teotitlán del Valle.
Like the rest of my life here in Oaxaca, Thanksgiving this year packed a double cultural punch.
On one hand, there was gringo-prepared turkey and dressing with all the trimmings on Saturday since Thursday was a regular working day here. On the other, there was the opportunity to reflect on some of the things I take for granted on the thankometer every day. Running water, for instance. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I didn’t wear my harem costume this year for Day of the Dead; that would have been 2009 when I was still feeling a little let out of school to be living in Mexico. But that three-week trip to Oaxaca for Día de los Muertos was a life-changer. I knew that if this place were this magic despite a missed flight, a grumpy traveling companion and a bout of the swine flu – it must really be special.