Christmas in México–La Aguinaldo

dino christmas

It is customary for employers to give their employees an aguinaldo (Christmas bonus) the last working day of the year before the official start of the extended Christmas vacation.  By law, the aguinaldo must be paid by December 20.  The amount varies for each employee as it is based on the total number of days worked during the year and the current salary of the employee.  Typically, however, it ends up being about 15 days pay.

Therefore, about the middle to end of December finds the average Mexican temporarily flush with cash.  Of course, this is known to all and results in some extra fleecing by the police in the form of mordidas (bribes).

Last year, my husband went out the first day of vacation to load us up for water so that we wouldn’t have to worry about running out on our days off.  (See Water Woes)  Only he didn’t come home that night.  Needless to say, my son and I were beside ourselves with worry.  He arrived with the truck around 7 a.m. the following day.

It seems what happened was that in El Ojo del Medio de Agua where he was filling our water storage tanks, there was an alleged robbery of a stereo.  The police arrived and searched the truck, my husband and the vehicle and person of another man who was also there filling up water containers.  Not being content at finding nothing of value either in the pockets of the accused or the vehicles, they took both men into custody.  They were taken and held in Yuriria.  My husband didn’t have any cash on him, nor did he have a phone to call me to bring any, plus he hadn’t stolen anything, so did not make the customary mordida (bribe) offer.  The police tried force him to pay una fianza (bail) before releasing him, but again, he didn’t have any money.

He walked from Yuriria back to where the truck had been left, about 5 miles as the crow flies and drove back home, without a full water load though.

This is not the first time something like this has happened to us around the Christmas season.  The second year we were here, my husband and his brother-in-law were stopped by the police, who had removed any tags that might identify them, although they did not wear capuchis (masks). (See Safety and Security or lack thereof) Even after my husband showed them our permit from the aduana (customs), his driver’s license, and our marriage certificate, the officers threatened to impound the vehicle.  Between the two of them, they had about $2000 pesos on hand and that was accepted graciously by said law enforcement with a Merry Christmas to you too.

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Christmas in México—La Piñata

A traditional Christmas piñata is a seven pointed star.

A traditional Christmas piñata is a seven pointed star.

The piñata is an integral part of the Christmas season in México.  The traditional piñata is in the form of a 7-pointed star made from a clay pot, although it is more common now to find paper maché piñatas. (Fiesta Star Pinata - Red Multi-colored)Depending on your source, the star represents the Star of Bethlehem or the devil with each point representing one of the 7 deadly sins.  The piñata is broken with a stick, usually a broom or mop handle, that represents the strength from God through faith that allows the participant to romper (break) the hold of the 7 deadly sins and destroy the devil.  The fruit and candy that fall from the demolished piñata, represent the love and blessing of God.  Just goes to show you that anything can be religified.

A piñata is broken each night of the 9-day posadas (See Celebrating Christmas–Las Posadas).   After the singing of Pedir Posadas, prayers and refreshment, the chant of “¡No quiero oro, ni quiero plata, yo lo que quiero es quebrar la piñata!” is taken up.  (I don’t want gold, I don’t want silver.  All that I want is to break the piñata!)

So how do you break the piñata?

pinata

Children line up from youngest to oldest.  The piñata is hoisted on a pulley which is manned by someone whose intent is to not allow it to be broken until all children have had a go at it.  The first child is given the stick and may or may not be blindfolded.   Usually the younger children are not, but the older ones are both blindfolded and spun around several times. (Fiesta Star Pinata - Red Multi-colored)

Singing watchers form a rough circle and each child has until the end of the song to swing like mad and try to hit it to the tune of “¡Dale, dale, dale, no pierdas el ritmo, porque si lo pierdes, pierdes el camino; ya le diste uno ya le diste dos, ya le diste tres y tu tiempo se acabó!”

At the word acabó (finished) the swinger is supposed to hand the stick to the next child in line and not make a flurried series of last minute swings, but it seldom happens as smoothly as one would like.  No matter how many piñata breakings children have attended and no matter how many times the parents caution restraint, there is always a mad rush at the first shower of candy and inevitably someone ends up bonked on the head and crying.  Since there is never enough candy to go around, each child is given an aguinaldo (treat bag) to ease any hurt feelings or cracked skulls.

scramble

At the last piñata bashing we attended, not only were there head bonks, but there was an all-out fist fight and bloody nose between two teenagers over candy.   We took our aguinaldos (treat bags) and high-tailed it out of there.

 

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Christmas in México–Las Posadas

posada

Las Posadas is a 9-day series of community or family gatherings that begin December 15 and end December 24 reenacting the pilgrimage of José y María (Joseph and Mary) from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  According to some sources, this tradition began in 1587 when the priest Diego Soria instituted a series of masses to replace the celebrations that occurred during this same time period to the god of war, Huitzilopochtli.  During this Aztec celebration, a slave was selected to represent Quetzalcóatl and sacrificed at conclusion of the 9 days of festivities and the temples held ceremonies reenacting the arrival of Quetzalcóatl.

As it is currently observed, family groups or communities take turns hosting the event.  The host family plays the role of the innkeeper and the visitors are assigned the role of peregrinos (pilgrims) in search of lodging.  The peregrinos (pilgrims) pedir posada (ask for lodging) in song-form from the host family, standing outside a closed door with lit candles.  The song is funny, irreverent and a bit complicated to sing.  Most participants use cheat sheets provided by the host.  The complete song in Spanish and English can be found HERE.

Once the host “recognizes” Mary and Joseph, the peregrinos (pilgrims) are allowed to enter.  Refreshment is provided by the host, usually in the form of pozole (hominy stew) or another traditional dish and ponche (fruit punch) or canela (hot cinnamon tea).  This is followed by reza (prayers, usually the rosary is recited) and la piñata.  Host families also provide aguinaldos (a bag of treats and fruit) for the departing participants to take with them.

Or so this custom is celebrated in Moroleón.  Once upon a time, before I knew better, I agreed to accompany my mother-in-law to Las Posadas.  Little did I realize that we would be in for a night of posada-crashing.  We drove around until we saw a group of people huddled outside a home and follow them in.  As the whole point of the event is to express hospitality, the host could not ask us to leave although I noticed several dirty looks sent our way.  I, for one, felt extremely uncomfortable eating a stranger’s food and accepting the aguinaldo (treat bag), so much so that I tried to return it, but that wasn’t allowed either.  My mother-in-law had no such qualms and ate to her content, even asking for a second aguinaldo.  After that night, I refused to attend any more posadas that Christmas season, even though there were 8 days left.

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Christmas in México—El Nacimiento (Nativity Scene)

nativity scene

The basic images represented in a traditional Mexican Nativity scene are what you would expect to find in any other Christian country.  Mary and Joseph, along with the three wise men, angels, shepherds and a variety of animals are grouped around a stable or manger.   However, there are some notable differences.

The nativity scene is traditionally set up in homes on December 14, but the infant Jesus is not seen until Christmas Day, since Christmas Eve is the traditional birthday of Christ.  Another striking difference is the size of the baby Jesus image, not at all on the same scale as the other characters represented, often as much as twice the size.  This may have something to do with the relative importance of the Christ child as compared to the other players, but serves a second purpose as well.  Forty days from its “birth”, the infant Jesus image is taken from the manager, dressed, and presented to the congregation on el Día de la Candalaria.  Having a larger, standard-size image enables the family to be able to buy a new outfit from local venders for the presentation and be assured that it will fit. (Fontanini 5" Baby Jesus Religious Christmas Nativity Figurine)

Another variant from the basic Nativity scene that is often found is the size and scope of characters represented.  Not content with those who gathered in Bethlehem to witness the birth of the Savior, many households expand the Nativity scene to include animal and character representatives from all parts of the world.  Therefore, not only would there be some donkeys and cows present, but further from the central image of the baby Jesus in a manger, there might be elephants and kangaroos positioned as to seem to be making their way to pay homage.   I have seen entire rooms dedicated to el Nacimiento (Nativity scene).(11 Piece Resin Christmas Nativity Set with Moss Covered Creche and Figurines Beautiful Holiday Home Decor)

El nacimiento (Nativity scene) plays a part in Las Posadas as well.  When it is time to rezar (recite the rosary) Posada attendees are often grouped around the Nativity Scene, making them part of the extensive group of worshipers that have come to pay homage to the newborn King.

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Christmas in México–La Virgen de Guadalupe

virgen

The Virgen de Guadalupe (Virgin of Guadalupe), a.k.a. Nuestra Reina de México, La Empresa de las Americas and The Protectress of Unborn Children, is the most revered religious and political image in México and her feast day on December 12 kicks off the Christmas season in grand style. (Our Lady of Guadalupe Religious Framed Art)

So who is the Virgin of Guadalupe? According to Catholic sources, on December, 9, 1531, a peasant by the name of Juan Diego, saw a vision on the Hill of Tepeyac, outside of Mexico City. The site was formerly a shrine in honor of the goddess Tonantzin, “Our Sacred Mother” but had been burnt to the ground by the Catholic missionaries. The reported vision was in the form of a young dark-skinned girl and spoke Nahuatl, an indigenous language. She instructed Juan Diego to build a shrine in her honor at this site. Juan Diego went and told the Archbishop this story. Juan Diego insisted that this vision was the La Virgen María (the Virgin Mary), but the Archbishop wanted proof, so Juan Diego returned to the site and asked for a miracle. The vision told Juan Diego to gather flowers and the vision arranged them on his poncho. When Juan Diego opened his poncho in front of the Archbishop on December 12, the flowers fell to the floor and the fabric showed an imprint of the image known today as the Virgen de Guadalupe. (LA VIRGEN DE GUADALUPE, historia corta (Spanish Edition))

Juan Diego was given sainthood and the Catholics were given México.The poncho (tilma) is on display in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe behind bulletproof, climate controlled glass, for any who wish to see but not touch. So basically, La Virgen de Guadalupe is Mary, the mother of Jesus, but not.

la reina de mexico

Even more than the religious influence, the image of La Virgen de Guadalupe has been a unifying political force in México. The first president of México, José Miguel Ramón Adaucto Fernández y Félix changed his name to Guadalupe Victoria (Victory of Guadalupe) in her honor. Father Miguel Hidalgo, in the Mexican War of Independence (1810), and Emiliano Zapata, in the Mexican Revolution (1910), led their armies with Guadalupan flags emblazoned with an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. El Grito de Dolores, (See Mexican Independence Day) ends with the passionate cry of “Death to the Spaniards and long live the Virgin of Guadalupe. José María Morelos adopted the Virgin as the seal of his Congress of Chilpancingo. All because her blessing guarantees success like no other to a true Mexican.

This holds true for namesakes as well. There is no end to the men and women (Lupes, Lupillos, Lupitas, Lupillas) that carry the sacred name of La Virgen as their personal Saint and enjoy the festivities on December 12 as their Saint Day.

tepeyac

So how is La Virgen’s de Guadalupe’s feast day celebrated? Beginning on December 3, there is a 9-day novena (See La Novena) which ends on December 12th. If you need special intervention for a personal cause, you can make the pilgrimage to México City to lay your plea at her feet during this time. If you are not able to make the trip, shrines pop up all over México, so you still get a chance no matter where you are, although the most sure and direct route for prayer answering remains at the shrine in the Basilica. Don’t worry about oversleeping, fireworks in her honor begin before the sun shines. On the morning of December 12, home and church shrines are serenaded with Las Mañanitas as you would any other Mexican on his or her Saint day and birthday.(NOVENA A LA VIRGEN DE GUADALUPE (Spanish Edition))(Mananitas a La Virgen De Guadalupe: La Reina)

virgen church

In Moroleón, the street Tepeyac is closed and a sort of tianguis (See Failing at your own business-Tianguis) street fair is set up. Street venders sell their things, kiddie rides are available, and at the end of it all, up a long, long flight of stairs, you can attend mass at the templo (church) in Uriangato.

The Virgin of Guadalupe Religious Statue

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Shopping El Buen Fin–Mexican Black Friday

El Buen Fin is the third week in November in México.

El Buen Fin is the third week in November in México.

With commercial conglomerates like Wal-mart invading Mexican soil, it was only a matter of time until Black Friday arrived which it did with the invention of El Buen Fin in 2011. This was started by merchants in an attempt to stimulate the Mexican economy, but the true benefactors are the merchants themselves.

Banks and loan agencies offer advances on the aguinaldo (end of year bonus) to shoppers during the marketing period.

Banks and loan agencies offer advances on the aguinaldo (end of year bonus) to shoppers during the marketing period.

The advertising propaganda was intense last year. I even started to feel anxious as the big weekend approached. And the fact that it fell on a payday didn’t help that hole my money was burning in my pocket.

Well, I reasoned, we did need a few things. So with that weak rationale, we headed out to the commercial shopping center complex in Uriangato. It’s the first shopping center with a movie theater in the area and was built only about 2 years ago. Not that our income allows for much movie going, but it’s nice to know that it’s there.

The first stop was to look for a cell phone for my husband. His last phone died several months ago when it fell out of his pocket into the ajibe (dry well). We went to Coppel, but couldn’t get close enough to the display cases to see if there was anything he liked. He’s pretty particular. It must be a folding phone so he can carry it in his pocket when he is out with the goats and it won’t turn on and discharge, because you know charging is a bit of a challenge without electricity. Then it needed to have buttons, not a touch screen and large buttons at that. His hands are coarse and unwieldy from daily manual labor. But like I said, we couldn’t get close enough for a good look, so we went to the TelCel store. We were able to see most of the phones, however there were only two options, cheapy cheapy phones and touch-screen options.

We wandered up the corridor to the Iusacell store, but there were only 3 models. Then we headed to Soriana, but again, there were so many nalgas (backsides) blocking the glass display cases that we gave up. Instead, we headed to the bedding section. We needed some sheets as our last fitted sheet tore down the middle some week ago and we were sleeping on the bare mattress. $350 pesos which equals 7 classes. Then we headed to the choni (underwear) section, since everybody needed chonis (underwear) and socks. $150 for a pack of 4. Yikes! We picked up a stick of butter and a bag of sugar and headed out the door. In all, with the Buen Fin sales, we saved a whopping 50 centavos on the stick of butter.

Retailers sometimes raise prices right before the shopping weekend and then lower them to create an artificial savings for consumers.

Retailers sometimes raise prices right before the shopping weekend and then lower them to create an artificial savings for consumers.

So, when I got home, I checked those enticing ads out again. Those deals were really too good to be true. The phones that were on sale did not include the calling plan, which tripled the original non-discounted price. The motos on sale were only available though payment plans, with hidden interest rates that negated any savings you might have by buying this weekend. Other big ticket items advertised such as computers, entertainment centers and bedroom suites had the same credit promotion. Thus, the fact that we used cash insured no great “discount” for us. I was disappointed, but wiser as a result and next year will swear off any store that advertises a Buen Fin discount.

Buying on credit is never a good idea.

Buying on credit is never a good idea.

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More thoughts on Safety and Security

Last week my husband’s nephew L. was kidnapped and tortured. He was taken from the street along with his mother’s moto and held just a few blocks from his aunt’s house. He was stabbed twice in the back and had his ear nearly cut off with a machete. He escaped after 3 days of torture, naked and handcuffed. He was picked up  and taken to the hospital where he was stitched up. Three of of the four sequestradores (kidnappers) were arrested according to police. His mother sent L. into hiding.  He has just turned 20.

Is this boy evil enough to be tortured?

Is this boy evil enough to be tortured?

Being the mother of a son, this incident awoke a deep-seated fear in me, albeit my son is only 12 and a good boy. But you see, when I met L. he was 12 and a good boy too. So as parents, my husband and I began rationalizing away our fears. L. must have done something to deserve this treatment. Therefore it was karma, justice, etc. And as our son hasn’t done anything so bad that he would be kidnapped and tortured, he would be ok.

We had rationale for our thoughts.  This isn’t the first time L. has been involved in a violent attack. A few years back, his liver was damaged during the 13 second initiation beating rite of Sur 13. (See On Safety and Security) Then his mother’s boyfriend did a stint in jail for possession not so very long ago. (See Failing at your own business–Taxi Service) Part of his gang membership obligations included selling pot. He also used pot to cope with the constant pain he still has from his injuries. Is that enough to deserve torture? It hardly seems so.

If it wasn’t something he himself did, perhaps it was who he was involved with. As a street pot distributor, he would know who brought the drugs into town. Three days after L. escaped, two suspected drug distributors were murdered in Moroleón, one of them a transito (traffic cop).

You won’t find much of this information in the local newspaper, although other newspapers in Guanajuato have picked up on some of the assassinations and have reported on them or rather reported the gory details after the bodies have been found. But as Moroleón is a small town, no matter how much it wants to believe it is a city, the information spreads, although in whispers now.

The story being told is that someone turned traitor against those who previously were in “charge” of Moroleón and have been given permission by los estados (State Police) to eliminate those still remaining with the understanding that future control will be given to this person. These bodies that are “found” are executions. No one is ever arrested. No one is brought to justice.

Aliada al cártel de Sinaloa, La Familia domina Guanajuato

Ejecutan a 5 personas en Moroleón

Una menor de 16 años entre los ejecutados en Moroleón

Balacera en Moroleón; al parecer hay cuatro muertos November

Lo ejecutan amarrado de pies y manos

Ejecución múltiple; hallan a cinco sin vida

Ejecutan a hombre en Moroleón

The body count has become so high, that the powers that be have prohibited the local radio station to announce “fallecidos” which is how most friends and family members learn the day and time for the funeral and novena. (See La novena)  I expect their reasoning is, see no evil, speak no evil, and hear no evil.

So as parents of a pre-teen boy, we hope that the executions end soon. We increase our vigilance over our son, although he resents the restrictions. We look for talismans to hold out as wards against evil. Be home before dark. Come straight to where your dad is working from school. Don’t visit L. Bring your friends to our house rather than going to their houses. Will it be enough?

students

My son is not involved in gangs or drugs, but that wasn’t protection enough for the students in Iguala. And we already know that there is no justice to be found in México. (See On Life and Liberty) (See Justice for All) What more can we do?

Así fueron los últimos momentos de los estudiantes desaparecidos en México

 

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