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Archive for January, 2011

Americans visiting Mexico often don’t venture beyond their palapas at popular resorts like Puerto Vallarta, Cancun, or Los Cabos. But for more adventuresome and curious travelers, Mexico offers an array of colorfulfestivals. Many combine Catholic ritual with indigenous practices, giving visitors an intimate view of a uniquely Mexican way of life. Our first blog of 2011 is a sampling of Mexico’s finest festivals and cultural events, including the best places to enjoy them.

January: January Fair and the Festival of San Sebastian, Chiapa de Corzo, Chiapas

Despite its origins, this spirited festival is more about merrymaking than martyrdom. Hundreds of Parachicos, masked dancers sporting exotic wigs, are the highlight of this fair that starts mid-January. For more information: www.travelchiapas.com

February: Veracruz Carnival, Veracruz, Veracruz

One of the world’s largest pre-Lenten celebrations, the Carnaval de Veracruz kicks off with the Quema de Mal Humor, the burning in effigy of bad humor. Daily parades with imaginative floats, coronations of a queen, an ugly king, and one child king, dances and concerts. On Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) the party ends with the burial of Juan Carnaval, the symbol of wanton excess. More info: www.carnaval.com/cityguides.veracruz/vc_carnaval.htm

Photo: Lori Makabe

March/April: Palm Sunday Folk Art Market, Uruapan, Michoacan

One of the largest open-air folk markets in Mexico takes place in the city of Uruapan on Palm Sunday weekend. On Saturday morning, artisans in native dress parade through town to the central plaza where a week of selling begins. Avid collectors are among the bargain hunters searching for ceramics, jewelry, copperware, clothing, furniture, and guitars. For more info: http://www.michoacan-travel.com

March/April: Holy Week, San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato

Semana Santa in San Miguel de Allende begins two weeks prior to Easter Sunday, when pilgrims transport a figure of Jesus, known as El Senor de la Columna, through the night from Atotonilco. Predawn fireworks announce their arrival in San Miguel.

The following Friday (before Palm Sunday) is Viernes de los Dolores, or Night of the Sorrows. On this special evening people travel door-to-door admiring beautifully decorated home altars. These statues of weeping Virgins, surrounded by sweet grass, oranges and sand paintings, are tributes to Mary’s suffering. At many houses, guests are treated to a dulce, or sweet.

Palm Sunday is celebrated with a procession from the Parque Juarez at 10 a.m. down Sollano Street to the Parroquia church. Houses along the narrow cobbled street are decorated with brightly colored paper banners.

The week culminates in a Good Friday re-enactment of Christ’s persecution in San Miguel’s central plaza, (referred to as the jardin). Men dressed as Romans on horseback and a cross bearing “Christ” are the centerpiece of an elaborate procession. But it’s the multitudes of little girls dressed as angels that capture many spectators’ attention.

San Miguel’s many churches hold extravagant paschal masses on Saturday evening. Sunday masses are smaller, but in the late morning people crowd into the jardin to watch as papier mâché figures of Judas, rigged with firecrackers and suspended from wires above the plaza, are exploded. More information: www.internetsanmiguel.com

April/May: San Marcos Fair, Aguascalientes, Aguascalientes

The oldest fair in Mexico, the San Marcos Fair in Aguascalientes, is also Mexico’s largest, and loudest. Beginning in mid-April, this impressive agricultural fair runs for three weeks featuring cockfights, bullfights, spectacular fireworks displays, and a wine pavilion.  Don’t miss the charreria, or horse show, that takes place in the magnificent Villa Charra. More information: www.aguascalientes.gob.mx

July: The Guelaguetza, Oaxaca City, Oaxaca

For lovers of Mexican folk music and dance, attending Oaxaca’s Guelaguetza is an incomparable experience. Guelaguetza, a Zapotec word translated as “offering” or “exchange,” began as a tribute to the corn goddess, Centeotl. The modern festival’s main attraction is a folk dance competition at the open-air auditorium on Fortin Hill. Stunning views of the colonial city’s center add to the brilliant regional clothing, music and lively dances at the  The Guelaguetza takes place every year on the first two Mondays following the feast of St. Carmen on July 16. For this year’s dates and more info: www.go-oaxaca.com

September: International Mariachi Festival, Guadalajara, Jalisco

More than 500 mariachi bands from as far away at Japan and Croatia participate in the world’s largest mariachi festival. The battle of the bands takes place at the sumptuous Benito Juarez Theater. Parades, folk ballets, rodeos and art exhibitions round out the list of events. For info: www.mariachi-jalisco.com.mx

October: International Cervantino Festival, Guanajuato, Guanajuato

Begun in the 1950’s as a student tribute to Don Quixote author Miguel de Cervantes, the “Cervantino” has become Mexico’s most prestigious arts and music festival. World-renowned artists flock to this European-style colonial city to perform opera, ballet, music concerts, and exhibit their art during the first three weeks of October. The popular Entremesses, short skits written by Cervantes, are staged in parks, plazas and in haciendas throughout the city.  More info: www.guanajuatocapital.com

November: Noche de Muertos, Patzcuaro, Michoacan

While Noche de Muertos or the Day of the Dead is celebrated all over Mexico, the villages surrounding the city of Pátzcuaro are the epicenter of Day of the Dead activities. A few days before the official observance on Nov. 1 and 2, artisan markets sprout up throughout the city.

photo by Lori Makabe

The narrow, cobbled streets near the Basilica become a sea of purple stock, golden marigolds and magenta cockscomb. Special treats are abundant: sugar skulls and skeleton candies, and crispy fried tacos. Early on November 1, the village cemeteries overflow with people adorning graves with flowers, photos, candles, and fruit. Later that evening the atmosphere becomes more somber as families gather for the nightlong candlelit vigils. For more info: www.patzcuaromexico.com

December: Night of the Radishes, Oaxaca City, Oaxaca

Christmas in Oaxaca is a sumptuous treat, but Noche de Rabanos, the Night of the Radishes, an event unique to Oaxaca, is a must see. Each year on Dec. 23 lowly radishes are transformed into miraculous creations. These piquant root vegetables, some fantastically large, are carved into nativity figures, saints, revolutionaries, animals, dancers, and musicians, then put on display in Oaxaca’s festively decorated central plaza, the Zocalo. For more info: www.go-oaxaca.com

IF YOU GO:

ACCOMODATIONS: Many of these festivals are very popular and it is recommended you book at least six months in advance. These websites can help in planning your trip:

www.mexconnect.com Whether planning a visit or retiring in Mexico, everything you need to know can be found here.

www.mexonline.com Book both hotels and flights, or learn more about cultural events in Mexico through this informative, easy-to-navigate site.

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Whether you’re an avid traveler or only an armchair enthusiast,

you can find useful information about the diverse arts and

culture of Mexico here.

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