Sunday, December 2, 2007

Fiesta de San Andres: Ajijic gets down

Mexicans do like to party! Immediately after el Dia de la Revolucion, the Fiesta de San Andres (Saint Andrew) begins and runs for nine non-stop days. San Andres is the patron saint of Ajijic. Every town in Mexico has one, and usually the local parrochia is named after the saint. A town saint’s fiesta is usually the biggest, longest, and liveliest of the year. Cajititlan, a small town between Ajijic and Guadalajara, has one that in the old days ran for 3 months! In modern times, it was cut to about a week. Officials called it “progress.” Seems a shame. For a calendar of major Mexican fiestas throughout the year, click here.

Preparing the Castillo. Each of the nine days is different, but certain activities are common to all. There are always lots of fireworks. In the picture above, workers prepare a section of the Castillo, a thirty-foot high tower with spinning wheels of fireworks set off each night near midnight. But that's just the finale. Fireworks start about 5:00 AM with rockets that take off with a whoosh and end with a tremendous boom high in the air. These rockets, called cohetes, go off all day and most of the night, but reach crescendos resembling the siege of Stalingrad at 6:00 AM, noon, and from around midnight to o’dark thirty. The cohetes are a little unnerving at first, being unguided, highly flammable missiles capable of reaching 300-400 feet in altitude. People don’t appear to bat an eye and a good time is had by all.

View from our home. Groups of people led by bands march through the streets at various times of the day, but we had the good fortune to live by the launching point for each evening's parade, which originates at Seis Esquinas, about 1 1⁄2 blocks down the street, and proceeds past our house along Calle Hidalgo.

Packed Parrochia. The parades all finish at the Parrochia, about 1⁄2 mile away. The parades display an unusual mix of the sacred and secular, the traditional Catholic and the pre-Colombian Indian religions, the serious and hilarious.

Altar boys lead off. The marching group is often led by a priest in his vestments or by altar boys carrying tall crosses. It often seemed that the church was struggling to keep a Catholic veneer on a pagan harvest festival.

Local military gets in the act. A marching band is always included, sometimes a drum corps, but most often very heavy on the brass. The military leader (not in picture) of this troop of largely female drummers looked very stern until I realized his tiny grandson, also in military uniform, marched beside him, tootling on a horn.

An ancient heritage. Several nights, groups in elaborate and beautiful pre-Colombian dress accompanied the march, dancing and shaking rattles, their high feathered headdresses bobbing and waving above them.

Relaxing after the march. Unlike many of the traditional Indians in the area who turn away when approached, these dancers are proud to be photographed in their finery. Once they reach the Parrochia, their serious mien drops away and smiling young girls and impish little boys emerge.

Gremios on the march. Always a part of each march is a group of people carrying a large banner or picture. These are the sponsors, or gremios, of the evening’s march, sometimes employees of a local hotel, or carpenters, or maids and gardeners, or other group.

Lighting the way. Following their banner, members of the gremio carry paper-shielded candles, creating a lovely glowing procession in the early evening darkness. Each gremio sponsors a night and contributes all year to the expenses of the night’s festivities including the bands and the fireworks. Most agree that the construction workers, or albaniles, kick in the most and their night has the biggest fireworks, and the best bands.

Gettin' down. By the time the early evening march reaches the Parrochia, the party on the plaza nearby is kicking in bigtime. On most nights, a large stage is erected for the main band, which can have as many as twenty performers who really get the crowd cooking.

Waiting their turn. When the main band takes a break, many other small bands hanging out on the fringes will strike up a tune for a few pesos. Sometimes the various small bands and the main band overlap in a deafening roar not lessened by the boom of the cohetes and the cheers of the crowd. Fiesta time is not for those with over-sensitive ears.

Taco Bell, eat your heart out! Street food is usually available most times, but the fiesta brought the vendors out in droves. This man is carving up a large chunk of roast pork, from which he made me some very tasty tacos. He seemed puzzled that I would bother to take his picture, but he was willing to demonstrate his technique for me.

Wall-to-wall bars. The bar scene was incredible, with outdoor bars set up side-by-side all around the plaza. One of the more elaborate of the temporary bars was Paradise Tropical Drinks.

God in Paradise. Tending bar in Paradise was a ten-year old boy, wearing a startling t-shirt. Perhaps he was just warning his customers against their wayward behavior.

A different marketing strategy. For some reason, this particular bar usually seemed to get more than its share of business. I was lucky to catch these two bartenders at a quiet moment.

Party hearty! One night at the plaza party, I was adopted by three young Mexicans who demanded to know where I came from and how I like Ajijic and Mexican fiestas. Their English, while pretty sketchy, was much better than my Spanish, but the language of a party is pretty universal. The scene reminded me of Mardi Gras. At one point, apparently to demonstrate the good feelings of the evening, one of my new friends grabbed the nearest girl and gave her a big smooch on the lips. She looked surprised but not offended, and I suddenly realized she was there with someone else and didn’t even know the kisser.

Mexicans do like to party!


  1. Love it! Great glimpse into special celebrations - 9 days with major fireworks. Glad to see the indigenous culture still alive - we learned in school it was the women/mothers who taught and guarded their culture even while the Spanish tried to convert them. Sexism worked to the advantage (not discounting certain unpleasant factors) of the natives - the Spanish left the mothers and kids pretty much alone.

    At least that's what they thought when I was in college long ago and far away.

    Interesting theory, most likely with a good degree of accuracy. I hope anyway.

    Getting to know the culture inside is such a rich adventure!

  2. Jim,

    Try to lighten up and have a good time ;/.

  3. OMG, I love your blog, please keep taking pictures of ajijic, specially try to take some pictures of the house in front of the church in the street named "ocampo"

    Your pictures bring good memories to my mind, ajijic is such a nice place to live, full of activities


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