Fiesta de San Juan Cosalá

by Judy King 23. June 2010 11:35

SJC-flowerdisplay The most traditional patron saint fiesta, the novena in San Juan Cosalá honoring San Juan Bautista is building to its annual dramatic conclusion. The celebration in this oldest of the north shore Lake Chapala villages began June 16 with the faithful parishioners gathering to the sound of bursting sky rockets early every morning to walk in a pilgrimage to the village church.

The fiesta in San Juan Cosalá is filled with some of the most devout customs seen on Lake Chapala's north shore – including a host of special Masses which attract enough participants to fill the town church to the point of bursting.

There is a special Mass with services for the sick, in another the children receive first communion. There is a Mass for the Hijos Ausentes, (those San Juan Cosalá natives who have gone to the United States or other areas to work and live) and a Mass for those members of the community who have died during the year. It’s not unusual for as many as 18 priests from nearby communities to take part in the special noontime High Mass on June 24, the fiesta's final day. One night during the fiesta (usually on a Saturday night), townspeople take shifts to keep an all-night vigil in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in the church.

Many of the traditions exhibited here in the fiesta are more reminiscent of the old-time fiestas than those we see in other Lakeside villages. Villagers erect altars honoring San Juan Bautista in front of their homes. Even the early morning activities in San Juan Cosalá are more focused on the activities in the church than on beginning an all-day party.

Each morning the village is awakened by cojetes (skyrockets) and music so that as many people as possible can hurry to the procession's starting points at alternating ends of the village for the walk to the church reciting the rosary. The early morning service begins at 6:30 a.m. At noon, skyrockets call townspeople to the church for meditation and another recitation of the rosary.

The daily 6 p.m. procession of pilgrims to the church is accompanied by one of the local bandas and is always lead by villagers who dance in the style of the indigenous people who lived in this area long before the arrival of the Spanish. The procession begins on alternate days from the east and west ends of Calle Porfirio Díaz.

Each evening, the day’s sponsors and others in the procession carry offerings of flowers, wine, bread, food and other items to the church. One night, a year's supply of sirios (large candles) is carried in the procession and presented to the church.

SJC-allages SJC-offering SJC-float 

The daily 6 p.m. procession of pilgrims to the church is accompanied by one of the local bandas and is always lead by villagers who dance in the style of the indigenous people who lived in this area long before the arrival of the Spanish. The procession begins on alternate days from the east and west ends of Calle Porfirio Díaz.

Each evening, the day’s sponsors and others in the procession carry offerings of flowers, wine, bread, food and other items to the church. One night, a year's supply of sirios (large candles) is carried in the procession and presented to the church.

As the evening procession arrives at the church, the band goes into the church first to play "Las Mañanitas" at the altar for San Juan.

When the band leaves the church, the dancers file in to dance at the altar in honor of the patron saint. They leave and then dance in the church's front atrium after Mass.

Each day of the fiesta is organized and sponsored by individual families and by local trade unions, businesses, and employees. Those who take an active part include the brick masons and construction workers, the restaurant owners from the Piedra Barrenada area just east of town, the shop owners, the Cosalá fishing union, the chayoteros (growers of chayote, a pear-shaped squash) the owners and employees of the balnearios (hot springs), and the achioteros (makers of achiote, a spice rub for meat and fish).

SJC-dancers SJC-beheading-juan

Some years I round up a group of friends so we can go to San Juan Cosalá for the final enormous solemn procession honoring St. John the Baptist on the evening of June 24. The procession begins at the village church, moves to the west end of town, then goes east on the carretera (highway) to Calle Porfirio Díaz and then moves back west along that street  to return to the church.

The ages of the participants ranges from newborn babies to the most elderly of the community. During the procession, young girls wear their white First Communion or confirmation dresses. You'll see figures representing the animal skin-clad John the Baptist riding on carros alegóricos (elaborate floats with Biblical themes) depicting moments in his life).

Leading off the pilgrimage are dancers, a band, and the village priest. Three or four bands, elaborate floats depicting Biblical scenes, three or four other troupes of dancers, and hundreds of pilgrims jostle for space in the narrow streets.

It is easy to see the great devotion the people hold for San Juan. Their feelings are demonstrated by the enormous attendance at the last procession and in the sacrifices of some of villagers for the patron.

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Each year I spot pilgrims walking on the harsh cobblestones with bare feet—in penance or in an act of thanksgiving. Some walk the whole route blindfolded, holding to the arm of a friend, as an act of blind faith in payment of a manda (a solemn petition or vow). You'll spot many of the town's tiny tots dressed in skins (or fake fur); their parents are also carrying out their manda.

SJC-velvet There are so many walking in the procession that trying to watch from the sidewalks along Calle Porfirio Díaz just isn't comfortable and getting pictures becomes nearly impossible with people spill out of the streets to fill the sidewalks.

Over the years, I've found that my favorite spot for watching the procession is along the highway near the Telmex installation at the intersection with Calle Porfirio Díaz at the east end of town. I arrive early, find a parking space just east of the turn into the village and wait in the car in the shade until I hear the procession arriving. Then I can walk along the highway a bit and set up a great spot for viewing and picture taking.

 

The procession begins about 6 p.m. on that last day, and arrives at the church in time for 7 p.m. Mass .

The castillo (set piece fireworks) in San Juan Cosalá is usually burned earlier in the evening than it is in other towns to protect it from getting wet from an evening rainy season shower. Sometimes it is set off soon after the evening Mass, especially if it looks like a storm is approaching.

There is always a paseo and music for dancing at the plaza. In one year's grand finale, six village bandas played for the serenata (serenade) and dance, until they were rained out sometime after 1 AM.

Want to know more about San Juan Cosalá?

You may enjoy reading these other articles we’ve published about Lakeside’s most traditional village, Just click on any of these three titles:


Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at www.mexico-insights.com, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

Semana Santa: Ajijic Recalls the Passion of Christ

by Judy King 2. April 2010 00:36

clip_image007The celebration of Easter in Mexico is a big deal—huge. For the devout and even those who are mildly religious (Mexico is 87% Catholic, so that's almost everyone), the week preceding and the week following Easter Sunday are a combination of the year’s most holy times for worship and most important holiday time for family events.

One of the most spectacular events of the year at Lakeside is the week-long Ajijic passion play which depicts the last days of Christ. This beloved local tradition was resurrected in the 1980s when a group of young men decided to recreate the town's former Semana Santa customs.

Eduardo Ramos Cordero (Lalo) and his companions began by researching the clothing and details of the Biblical stories of the events during the last week of Christ and then Lalo wrote a script and the group started planning scenes that they could portray. Nearly 40 years later Lalo is still directing his friends and dozens of other townspeople in a Semana Santa (Holy Week) theatrical extravaganza.

Viernes Santo (Holy or Good Friday)
clip_image004The front of Ajijic's San Andres Church is transformed into the opulent palace of King Herod for Friday's trial of Jesus as the passion play resumes on Friday morning.

The local townspeople take honor in portraying the cast mentioned in the Bible. Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary are there, along with wonderfully costumed early Christians and complacent Roman townspeople and authority figures.

The human statues and fountains that decorate the palace of Herod are Ajijic's younger residents covered in gold, standing motionless in classic poses.

clip_image006The Roman soldiers fend off the angry uprising of the people in the mob who cry, "Crucify Him" in response to the offer to release Jesus. The action is as real as the players can provide in the annual event. As Jesus is scourged by the Romans' whips, sometimes real blood dots his back as one of the men with the whips miscalculates and actually strikes the actor. Trickles of stage blood dot his head under the crown of thorns.

Carrying the Cross to the Crucifiction

The hand hewn cross carried by Jesus through the streets of Ajijic and up onto the mountain is said to weigh between 80 and 90 kilos or nearly 200 pounds.

When he picks up the huge cross to carry it through the village and up onto the mountain to the site of his crucifixion, spectators are visibly moved.

clip_image005On the mountain, Jesus is hung between two thieves to die. As he speaks from the cross, weakens and dies, the agony and grief in the crowd is palatable, heavy and real. Subdued, most of the crowd disperses but his mourners remain on the mountain with him until nightfall. Then, as Jesus said in his last words, "It is over."

You'll find that it doesn't matter that none of the participants are professional actors. Each participant offers all of their energy to God, taking great personal pride in the sacrifices of time, energy and money needed to accurately fulfill their role. Each participant observes the Catholic tradition of the story of Christ's passion as closely as possible. Their suffering and courage is mixed with a great deal of enthusiasm, soul and love.

Friday's trial
If you plan to attend 11 a.m. Friday's trial and crucifixion be sure to arrive prepared to be in the heat and sun and the possibility of standing for the length of the performance in the heat and the sun. Bring a folding chair if you have difficulty standing for a long period of time. There is no shade, so be sure to wear a hat that will protect your face, neck, and eyes. Apply sunscreen frequently throughout the day. Carry plenty of drinking water. Remember that the full sun, time of day, and altitude are a combination of conditions that cause rapid and serious sunburn and dehydration.

The Procession of Silence
The year's most moving and emotional procession is held in each of Lakeside’s villages on Friday night. In Ajijic, townspeople gather at 9 p.m. and move in absolute silence through the streets of town. In sharp contrast to other processions which are punctuated by sky rockets, the music of the town's brass band, and the dramatic pealing of church bells, in this pilgrimage the only sounds are the mournful slow cadence of a single drum and the quiet shuffling of the feet on the cobblestones. At the head of the group, banners proclaim, "Silence! Jesus is dead."

Throughout the somber crowd, village people carry signs listing the sins for which Jesus died.

This is a solemn, quiet, very serious and moving event. Please do not chat, smoke or drink as the people pass by.

See the other events of Semana Santa in our previous posts:

Maunday Thursday The Passion of Christ Begins: Jesus and the disciples celebrate the Last Supper, the washing of the feet and then retreat to the mountain to pray. There Jesus is arrested and marched to the plaza where the drama continues.

Celebrating Palm Sunday: Jesus and the disciples enter the village on a carpet of alfalfa laid over the cobblestones. The townspeople following waving boughs of camomile, rosemary and palms.

The Feast of the Virgin of Dolores: Mary, the mother of Jesus is called the Virgin of Dolores (the Virgin of Sorrows) as she appears during the Passion of Christ. She is remembered with home altars on the last Friday of Lent; as neighbors visit they say, “Has the Virgin Wept Here.”


Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at www.mexico-insights.com, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

Celebrating Palm Sunday

by Judy King 26. March 2010 15:06

palm-sunday-street-alfalfa 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.

palm-sunday-JesusBlessing 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).

palm-sunday-people 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.

palm-sunday-ponche

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.

palm-sunday-lotteria 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.


Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at www.mexico-insights.com, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

About Judy King

Judy King

Hi There — Welcome to my little corner of the world. I'm Judy King and I live in the centuries-old village of Ajijic on the north shore of Lake Chapala, Mexico's largest natural lake.

I've lived here full time since 1990, and... [ more ]

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