October Fiestas and Dia de los Muertos by Micki Wendt
Before October actually starts, the Chapala Patron Saint Fiesta commences on Sept. 26 and concludes on October 4, the feast day of Saint
Francis of Assisi, lover of peace, nature, and animals, and the patron saint of
Chapala. Since several other towns in the region also have St. Francis as their patron saint, some very exciting and exotic Azteca Dancers (Danzantes) visit for the main procession.
The 9-day Fiesta routine is standard - each day will feature early morning, noon, and evening cohetes (noisy sky-rockets), Masses, and processions from different neighborhoods to the church. After each evening Mass, there will be a dance with a Banda in front of the Church. Check the Guadalajara Reporter for more details.
In Ajijic, the entire month of October is devoted to the Virgin of the Rosary, whose statue resides the rest of the year in the small chapel on the Plaza. A small pre-procession will occur on Sept. 30 from the Guadalupe Church to the San Andres church in the late afternoon. Special Masses, which include the saying of the Rosary, will be held every evening throughout the month. Afterwards, there are usually a few more cohetes to propel the prayers of the people to God.
On weekends during October, you might hear early morning sky-rockets and/or bandas or mariachis as they proceed from various points in town to the church for the early morning Mass. The whole point of having cohetes, bandas, and processions including singers in the pre-dawn hours is to wake up the people for the morning Mass, not that everyone goes every day.
While some northerners are put off by all the early morning "noise" it is important to remember that these are long-held and deep traditions emanating from the time before there were alarm clocks, all the way back to the pre-hispanic times. Most of the good people of the village are up at that hour anyway, as half of the kids go to the early shift at their schools. These are not holidays. Life goes on, people go to work and school as usual, and so the gringos can kindly curtail their complaining.
October 31 is the last day of the month-long celebration, so there will be an large evening fiesta beginning with a procession including floats, Danzantes, bandas, and the carrying of La Virgen, herself, through the town. It starts around 5pm behind the church on Calle Galeana, and then heads east on Guadalupe Victoria, down Calle Aldama, west down Constitucion and Ocampo to Seis Esquinas (6 Corners) and back to the San Andres church to a welcome of the exuberant and rousing pealing of bells, brass bandas playing as several groups of Danzantes Aztecas with their drummers, heralded by the blowing of conch shells, and La Virgen, enter the church Atrium just before the twilight outdoor Mass as the sun sets - a truly dynamic and moving spectacular of jubilant and cacophonous sound healing.
After the Mass, people will gather in the Plaza when La Virgen will ceremoniously be carried back to her home in the Chapel, where she will be serenaded by Mariachis, and honored by more Danzantes outside. Later, there will be a Banda playing for dancing and enjoyment, and around 10:30 or 11pm, there will be a Castillo lit up in front of the Chapel on the Plaza - a preview of the San Andres fiesta in November which will have such events for 9 days straight, an awesome amount of fun.
Please note that Halloween is not celebrated in Mexico and that the above events have absolutely nothing to do with Halloween, although you might see small children (only) in costumes or masks, owing to the trickle down of US commercialism to Mexico.
October also brings us yet another procession in Chapala to celebrate the momentous visit of La Virgen de Zapopan, also known as La Reina del Lago, or Queen of the Lake, who usually resides in the Cathedral at Zapopan. Her intercession is credited for the abundant rainfall which replenished the lake several times after several severe droughts in past decades. The people prayed and danced, the skies opened up to answer all the prayers, and so the people of Chapala created this very special event to give thanks for the bountiful rainfall which brought the Lake back to life several times.
In October she is honored by several troupes of Danzantes and Drummers, Charros, and visiting dignitaries of the Church including the Bishop of Jalisco. Plan to attend this huge and festive blend of all aspects of Mexican society, which occurs twice a year - in July at the beginning of the rainy season, and in October, at the end of the rainy season. The exact date is not confirmed at the time of this writing - it will probably be the 14th or 21. Please check the Guadalajara Reporter closer to those dates.
Heads Up for Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, which occurs every November 1 and 2, the 2nd being the larger day. November 1 commemorates the Angelitos - the little angels, the children and babies who have died and gone to heaven. In the cemetery, you'll see altars built for small children with milk, cookies, baby bottles, and stuffed toys - touching enough to make you cry.
Dia de los Muertos, has none of the spooky, evil, or macabre connotations of Halloween up north. In fact, it is a loving and heartfelt tribute to the dear departed loved ones and ancestors of the people. All the skulls and skeletons you'll be seeing are simply a very realistic depiction of the current state of their loved ones. After centuries of a long and bloody history, Mexicans are not afraid to look Death squarely in the face.
Traditionally celebrated in cemeteries throughout Mexico, families go together to visit the graves of their ancestors, bringing their favorite food, drinks and music in hopes that the spirits of their ancestors will come back to visit. It is a very happy/sad and moving experience as long-departed loved ones can be remembered with a light-hearted touch, while grieving continues for the newly departed. Many habitantes will sit up all night at the cemetery for this ancient ritual.
There will be public performances of song and dance in the Ajijic Plaza on Nov. 2 in the evening. Around town, many people will set up beautifully decorated altars dedicated to their loved ones. The Ajijic Cultural Center and Efren Gonzalez galleries usually have special exhibits for this day.
Chapala has a unique public 3-block-party with most of the residents of Calle 5 de Mayo building large altars outside their homes, celebrating there instead of the cemetery. This street is centrally located and easy to find on a map. Dia de los Muertos events generally commence at dark. Don't miss the chance to partake of this very spiritually rich, fascinating, as well as enjoyable ritual.
The time, energy, creativity, love, and devotion that the people here put into these fabulous fiestas never fails to amaze and awe me. Please come out and enjoy the Real Mexico. The foreign presence is always so sparse at all these very rich, traditional, and fun events.
The Fiesta Season continues through November with Revolution Day and the always wonderful San Andres Fiesta. More later on these very enjoyable days. Stay tuned!