I am delighted to have the opportunity to experience and learn about the traditions and customs of Christmas in Oaxaca. I love especially the idea of the Posadas…
As the story goes, Mary and Joseph, desperate for shelter on the eve of their child’s birth were turned away from a series of Inns. Now, here in Oaxaca, as people play out this journey of the sacred family, nobody gets turned away. Neighbours and strangers alike are welcomed into churches, and private homes, and gifts and food are given generously. Multiple times in the past week I have come across these small processions in the streets. Children are in the lead, dressed in coloured robes; darling little Josephs and Marys. They carry candles and sparklers, singing softly songs that I wished I knew.
Posada at Xochimilco Church 19 December, 2011.
Another tradition of this time is that of the piñatas. I only realised recently that the reason they are so extremely hard to smash is because at the core is a heart of solid pottery, an actual clay jar or pot. I was taught how they are made by one of En Via’s borrowers, Ana Rosa who has been making and selling them recently, hoping to capitalise on the fun tradition that sees one smashed at every posada, not to mention New Year’s also.
Ana Rosa in her Piñata shop, making a seven pointed star 15 December, 2011.
The piñata, which is covered in coloured or sparkling paper, represents the devil that is said to disguise himself in masks and fine decoration as a way of tempting people into sin. They are often constructed to have seven points or cones sticking out, each with a streamer attached. These seven points represent the seven deadly sins. The sweets, fruits and gifts that are placed inside the piñata are symbols of the distraction of earthly wealth and possessions. Participants are blindfolded and encouraged to hit the piñata in a play of fighting against evil forces. As the one blindfolded swings away, the crowd gathers and sings “Dale, dale, dale, no pierdas el tiro, porque si lo pierdes, pierdes el camino” (Hit, hit, hit, don’t lose your aim, because if you lose, you lose your way”).The actual stick they use is a symbol of virtue, and the reward for keeping faith is eventually obtained on breaking the piñata and releasing the goodies inside.
As the kids smash at the hanging target, whole families and communities stand about talking. Some hold hot cups of ponche, a delicious tea like drink, flavoured with fresh pieces of green apple, raisins, tamarinds, guavas and cinnamon. There are currently big metal vats of the drink on the street corners in the Zocalo, and in the food markets that spring up all over in time of festival and celebration. My first taste brought a real feeling of love and gratitude for this place, my home of Oaxaca, and joy in being able to experience new things every day.
As well as the fresh ingredients for a city’s supply of ponche, at the city markets these past weeks, I have noticed that many people have been selling an abundance of a strange moss type of plant. It didn’t look edible, though I was too shy to ask what it was for. Then I saw the nativity scene outside of the church at Xochimilco and it all became clear. It is literally a little mountain made of this moss, and all around are planted little figures and miniatures. There are shepherds and flocks of sheep, the Three Wise Kings and at the peak there are Mary and Joseph looking down lovingly at a blank space between them.
Nativity Scene Xochimilco Church 19 December, 2011.
I asked my companion, an 82 year old woman who had my arm as we walked about the church yard, about this obvious absence. She shook her head at me good-naturedly; “Of course Jesus is not there, he has not been born yet, but he will be here, he will appear on the 24th”. And I have a wonderful feeling that that will be the biggest party yet…
I want to take this opportunity to wish Merry Christmas to all our supporters. However you and your families spend the Holiday, know that you have true friends with us here in Oaxaca, Mexico, and that you are in for another great year of stories in 2012!