Monday, March 1, 2010

Carnival and Christ in Puebla, Mexico

( please click on the photos to enlarge)

I recently wrote about the “Fat Tuesday” celebrations in the village of San Martin Tilcajete outside of Oaxaca, featuring a “faux” wedding, devils, noise, dancing, gossip, ribald behavior and lots of pre-Lenten craziness.

After eight days in Oaxaca, we (students and teacher of our art course sponsored by the Worcester Art Museum) went on to Puebla, a larger city 80 miles southeast of Mexico City which boasts ornate colonial architecture featuring tiles and beaux-arts rococo plasterwork and the famous Talavera pottery.

Here in Puebla, carnival celebrations were in full swing and on Sunday Feb. 2 , as we prowled the large flea market and antique area, we ran into a parade featuring local beauties in white dresses dancing with men dressed as devils, Indians and Spaniards. Their costumes trumpeted the names of their neighborhoods on their cloaks. The costumes were less gruesome than in Oaxaca and the devils far less threatening, but the bystanders were having just as much fun.

That night, as we went to the Zocalo of Puebla, which has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the large plaza was chock full of costumed dancers and music, fountains spurting and children delighted with the carnival activities, balloons and ice cream treats. Clearly families had dressed up the children and driven in from outlying areas, and as we enjoyed margaritas at a sidewalk restaurant, we felt privileged to be included in the Lenten hilarity. Among the mask for sale was a spooky Michael Jackson face.

I’m also including a photo I took from our balcony at the Hotel Colonial of a grandmother and her granddaughter on a bench below. At first I thought she had a baby beside her, but then I saw that it was the family’s Christ Child doll, that she had brought out for a stroll—or to be blessed in church. I’ve learned that the Christ Child doll lies down on the family altar at Christmas but is then put in a sitting position on Candlemas (Feb. 2) and he needs a new set of clothes at that time. The Christ Child in his new clothes needs to be taken to church to be blessed before the beginning of Lent, but this grandmother seems to have overlooked the deadline—or perhaps there’s a dispensation on Sundays?

In Mexico, the symbols of the Catholic religion are everywhere, and while leaving the Zocalo that day I snapped a photo of a woman sitting in a store that sells religious objects. She was almost hidden behind a life-size statue of a bleeding crucified Christ lying on the counter.

(My next post will be: Angels in the Architecture in Puebla, and under the volcano in Cholula.)

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