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Los días festivos en Oaxaca en diciembre 2014

December is a great time of year to visit Oaxaca, as there are many cultural celebrations. Our Lady of Guadalupe is honored on December 12th, the Virgin of Soledad, the patron saint of Oaxaca has her feast days from December 16th through the 18th, the Christmas posadas in Teotitlán del Valle run from December 16th through the 24th, La Noche de los Rabanos (the Night of the Radishes) takes place on December 23rd and La Noche Buena takes place on December 24th.

It had been fourteen years since I had been to Oaxaca to take in all of these activities. Not only did the above take place, there were pop-up events such as folkloric dancing, children singing Christmas songs, an outdoor video projection on M. Alcala and various choral groups singing Christmas songs. The San Pablo Cultural Center held the Feria de Cacao on December 13th and 14th. At this fair you could taste chocolate from various regions of Oaxaca.

Christmas in Oaxaca is focused on the birth of the Christ child. One can find nacimientos (nativity scenes) throughout town in hotels, restaurants, stores, etc. The Abastos market in town had a section that was especially set up for the Christmas season. Here one could find piñatas, Christmas lights and decorations, the figures for the nacimientos, sparklers and even costumes for children to wear depicting Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, wise men and angels.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is an important religious figure in Mexico. She appeared on four separate occasions to an indigenous Indian named Juan Diego outside of Mexico City in December 1531. Juan Diego was deeply devoted to the Catholic faith. When Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared the first time she asked Juan Diego to visit the bishop. She wanted the bishop to build a church where she had appeared to Juan Diego. This area is known as Tepeyac Hill. The Bishop wasn’t swayed by Don Diego’s request. It took three additional visits before Juan Diego was able to persuade the bishop to build the church. When Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego the fourth time she instructed him to go to the top of the hill and gather red Castilian roses. Normally there would only be cactus on the hill and certainly not roses in full bloom. Juan Diego gathered up the roses in his tilma (cape) and went off to see the bishop again. When he opened up his tilma before the bishop the red roses scattered to the ground and the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was imprinted on the inside of his tilma. The bishop was convinced this was a miracle so he built the church in her honor. She is known as the dark skinned virgin and she is honored throughout Mexico.

In Teotitlán del Valle, el grupo promesa 2013 - 2015 of the Danza de la Pluma danced in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12th. All of the dancers wore capes on their backs with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Only this group makes a three-year promesa to dance for the saints in the village. The dance invokes the sun, moon and the seasons along with astrological events such as the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Moctezuma embodies the god of the sun. The rest of the dancers represent celestial bodies. The Spanish brought this dance to the Zapotec Indians. It takes eight hours for this dance to be completed. It was a wonderful experience to watch this group passionately dance for Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The origin of the Virgin of Soledad took place in December 1620. A mule driver with his pack of mules was traveling from Veracruz to Guatemala. On December 17th he arrived at the Hermitage of Saint Sebastian in Oaxaca. The next morning when he awoke he discovered that he had an extra mule in his pack carrying a large box on his back. The load was so heavy that the mule had fallen to the ground. The mayor was called in to help in aiding the heavy load. Once the mule got up, it immediately collapsed by falling dead on the ground. It was determined that the weight of the load had killed the mule. The town’s officials immediately opened the box. Inside were two religious sculptures. One was the resurrected Christ and the other was a wooden head and a pair of hands. Written at the foot of the cross were the following words, “Our Lady of Solitude”. Bishop Juan Bartolome de Bohorqueze Hinojosa declared this incident to be a miracle. These two statues were then transported to Santa Veracruz church, which today is known as the Carmen Alto church. The hands and face of the Virgin of Soledad remained in the San Sebastian church, which is now the Basilica of Soledad. Not long after this event, the virgin’s image became so well known throughout the region that the chapel of San Sebastian was renamed as the Basilica of Soledad.

On December 16th after an evening mass, the China Oaxqueñas participated in a calenda (parade) that traveled throughout the city of Oaxaca. They were accompanied by live music, monos de la calenda (processional puppets) and fireworks. They danced the jarabe throughout the evening. They returned to the basilica in the morning. On December 17th at around ten in the evening there were fireworks. A huge castillo (castle) was a part of the festivities. It was an immense tower made from bamboo that was around 100 feet tall. It was made up of several sections that went off at different intervals. There were wheels that rotated sending off rockets. The grand finale was made up of a waterfall of white lights that went off on the side of the basilica. It was a thrill to take it all in! On December 18th people from all over the state come into Oaxaca City to pay their respects to the Virgin of Soledad. A replica is placed in the corner of the church courtyard. Visitors light a candle for her, walk underneath her cape and offer her prayers.

The Zapotec village of Teotitlán del Valle sponsors posadas for nine evenings. The last posada is held from December 23rd - 24th. It is in the house of the padrinos of the Christ child. Everyone who sponsors the posadas in this village feeds a large group of people from the community, hires a band to play music, is responsible for keeping the statues from the church in their home and they must have at least forty candles made from virgin wax to accompany the statues of Joseph and Mary in the posadas. Each evening a different family hosts the posada. There is a party throughout the day. Inside each home there is the posada altar that holds the statues of Joseph and Mary. Before the saints are to be moved to the next home, people from that next home, come into the home where the party is taking place and pray in front of the posada altar. These people will be sponsoring the next posada. They will transport the saints to their home where the posada will continue. Slowly this group of men and women enter the room as Joseph and Mary are taken off the altar and moved underneath a canopy that is placed on a platform to transport the saints to their next destination. The women line up one by one as they kiss the clothing of Joseph and Mary while making the sign of the cross and placing an offering in a small plate that has been placed in front of the saints. The men follow the women and make an offering as well. At this point, both the men and women pick up the candles to be used for the posada and light them. These candles, which are only made in this village, have a floral wreath attached to them. Four young girls carry the processional float known as an anda out of the house while altar boys carry huge lanterns to light the way in the dark streets of the night. These lanterns will guide the posada to the next home. Two lines are formed, one with the women and young girls and the other with the men and young boys. They will walk in front of the processional float. There are two brass bands, one in front of the anda and the other behind the lines of men and women. The music of these two bands will continue until they reach the next home. Along the procession route fireworks are shot off which adds to the mood of the event. The people in the posada also blow whistles as they process to the next house. Once the final destination is made, prayers are said and the same ritual is repeated again the next day until December 24th.

Early in the morning of the 24th, the padrinos and the members of the posada process to the church where the madrina (godmother) is given the statue of the Baby Jesus. The posada then slowly makes it way back to house of the padrinos. Along the way, people from the village approach the madrina and kiss the statue of the Christ child. It is a moving event to witness.

This year the city of Oaxaca celebrated the 117th anniversary of La Noche de los Rabanos. This folkloric event only happens in Oaxaca City. The event is comprised of artisans competing in three different categories -- making carvings from huge radishes, dried flowers known as flor de immortal and cornhusk figures known as totomoxtle. Within the radish division there is freestyle, traditional and three separate categories for children. The totomoxtle category is divided in two parts; one for using the natural color of the cornhusks and secondly using colored cornhusks. There is only one category for the flor immortal. Each category is judged individually and the top prize money for the best radish carving in the traditional category is a little over $1,000. It is a huge event, which brings in people from throughout the world and Mexico as well. This year in the traditional radish category the winner was Carlos Vásquez Sebastion, in the freestyle radish category the winner was Isái Pineda Manzano, in the traditional totomoxtle category Elpídio González López won first prize, in the colored toxomoxtle category Leticia Cruz Hernández received first place and Macicela Raymundo Sanchéz received first place in the flor immmortal category. Congratulations to all of the winners!

This event originated with a Christmas market that always took place on December 23rd. Before a Christmas dinner people would always attend a mass. Vendors set up stalls on the Plaza de Armas de la Viejo Antequera before the mass took place. The vendors brought along vegetables for this meal. Most of these growers came from the village of Trinidad de las Huertas. This village is known for its flowers and vegetables. In order to make their stalls more appealing, the growers decorated their stalls with cauliflower leaves, the flowers from onions, radishes, lettuce and turnips. There were also baskets of flowers that the growers had cultivated that were used as decorations for the stalls as well. As this custom developed, housewives would come to these stalls looking for these figures for their own decorations in their homes.

On December 23, 1897 the mayor of Oaxaca, Francisco Vasoncelos Flores organized the first exhibit of radishes. The growers in turn began to make their unique radish carvings, which were comprised of Christmas scenes, fiestas, people, animals, dancers and other scenes from daily life in Oaxaca. This first time event took place on the zócalo. The artisans begin their preparation for La Noche de los Rabanos at least two months in advance. The competition today is sponsored by the City of Oaxaca through the office of Tourism. The Tourism Council supports the cultivation of the radishes. This is truly a unique, folkloric event, which fills all with awe and wonder when it comes to the creativity of these folk artists.

December is absolutely a wonderful time to take in the spirit of the holiday in Oaxaca!
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Posada Altar with Baby Jesus
Posada Altar with Baby Jesus
Castillo for the Virgin of Soledad
Castillo for the Virgin of Soledad
Altar for Our Lady of Guadalupe in Teotitlán del Valle
Altar for Our Lady of Guadalupe in Teotitlán del Valle
Baby Jesuses for Nacimientos
Baby Jesuses for Nacimientos
Christmas light assortment
Christmas light assortment
Altar for Our Lady of Guadalupe in Tlacolula
Altar for Our Lady of Guadalupe in Tlacolula
Nacimiento on the zócalo
Nacimiento on the zócalo
La Soledad and the angels
La Soledad and the angels
La Danza
La Danza
Altar for the Virgin of Soledad in Ocottlan
Altar for the Virgin of Soledad in Ocottlan
Honoring the Virgin of Soledad
Honoring the Virgin of Soledad
Calenda for the Virgin of Soledad
Calenda for the Virgin of Soledad
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