Mexico is renowned for local interpretations of the Easter events in the form of Passion Plays which portray the last days of Christ as reported in the Bible. The oldest, largest and best known of these meaningful productions at Lakeside which takes place each year in Ajijic.
Cuaresma (Lent), the 40 days before Easter, is a time for Christians to meditate and prepare for the Easter season with its story of death and rebirth. Those 40 days are also the final countdown for the hundreds of Ajijic's townspeople who work each year to produce the elaborate sets for the numerous scenes and days' events that comprise Ajijic's Passion Play.
With the beginning of Lent on Miercoles de Ceniza (Ash Wednesday), the building of props and sets, the sewing of biblical robes and Roman cloaks, and the rehearsals gather steam with an eye on Semana Santa (the week before Easter Sunday) when the last days and steps of Christ are portrayed through the village and onto the mountainside.
Blessing the Palms, The Palm Sunday Procession, and Mass
Semana Santa (Holy Week) and the annual Passion Play begin on a high note with the joyful celebration of Domingo do Ramos (Palm Sunday). Descriptions of Palm Sunday in the Bible tell of Jesus riding a donkey into Jerusalem in a triumphant procession surrounded by His friends while believers follow, singing hosannas and waving palms (and the branches of the fields).
On the Sunday before Easter (March 28 in 2010), artisans gather near the entrance of most churches to weave fresh palm fronds into a variety of clever designs from billowing sails, to crosses and even the Virgin of Guadalupe.
In preparation of the procession, townspeople all along Ajijic’s street that runs from the main church to Six Corners (Parroquia and Hidalgo) carefully clean and sweep the street, dampen it with water and then cover the surface with a blanket of fresh alfalfa.
The palms are blessed during the day’s Masses and at Six Corners before the late afternoon procession (beginning about 6:15 p.m.) in which villagers carry the palms, branches of fresh rosemary (for remembrance) and chamomile (representing the purity of Mary and the light of Christ) from Six Corners to the Templo de San Andrés (the large church near the plaza).
At the head of the procession, beginning the week-long traditional Passion Play, is Jesus riding a donkey, surrounded by a group of men dressed as his disciples.
The processions arrives at Ajijic’s main church just in time for an outdoor 7 p.m. Mass in the church atrium.
An Old Fashioned Sunday Evening in the Plaza
Later villagers gather in the plaza for an old-time Sunday evening, Ajijic style. Lining the plaza are food booths decorated with palm fronds and tissue paper flowers – reminiscent of plaza celebrations 50 or 100 years ago. Area residents sell old fashioned, homemade treats including arroz con leche (rice pudding), home toasted seeds and nuts, jamaica (a cool beverage made from the dried flowers of the red hibiscus), ponche (Mexican punch) and a great deal more.
Organizers try to keep this truly an old timey event. Most of the treats are served without benefit of plastic cups and plates, and the music flowing from the band in kiosko (gazebo) is beautifully unamplified.
There are other old traditions, too. Children and teens delight in impromptu battles with cascarones (egg shells filled with confetti) flying across the plaza and breaking and showering friends with confetti.
There’s a table for children to win old time wooden toys while playing Mexico’s delightful version of Bingo where pictures of common objects and people replace the letters and numbers on the card that must be filled.
As darkness falls, the villages young people, and those who are young at heart, begin the very traditional Mexican paseo (stroll around the plaza).
The boys and young men walk clockwise around the plaza while the groups of giggling girls stroll in the opposite direction. Occasionally a young man catches the eye and approval of a girl and falls out of formation to walk the rest of the evening with her. This explains why the Spanish word for walk (andar) is used to describes a couple that is dating!
In the heavily not-too-distant old times, many couples met and started their romances and relationships in the Sunday evening paseos, under the watchful eyes of their parents, godparents, aunts, uncles and neighbors. In those days young men presented the object of their attention with a flower purchased at the plaza. If the girl kept the flower, he knew she was interested. If she returned it the next time they circled the square, he’d been rejected in full view of the entire community.
Watch for our next post on Monday which outlines more Semana Santa (Holy Week) traditions and tips.