Religious celebrations in Mexico are a blend of liturgical practice and local custom. Liturgical practices are the public rites of the church throughout the world. Local celebrations are unique to the culture of place. In San Miguel, Holy Week begins the Friday before Palm Sunday.
Viernes de Dolores (Friday of Sorrows)
Friday morning, El Colegio, the street in front of the Mercado Central, was filled with flower and fruit vendors. Tarps draped across the street made a cave-like atmosphere intensifying the colors of purple and white flowers and of bright oranges.
“Hola, amigo,” said Abraham, my friend from El Bagel Cafe, “Today is Viernes de Dolores (Friday of Sorrows). It’s a beautiful time.”
Viernes de Dolores honors the Virgin Mary, recalling her sorrow on learning she is about to live through the pain and passion of Christ. Beginning early in the day, public and home altars are installed throughout the city. Many of the city’s 45 fountains are decorated by informal groups of neighbors. Elements of the altars consist of white altar cloths, representations of the Virgin, white and purple flowers, bitter oranges, wheat plants, and herbs. The color of each element has a special significance: white signifies Mary’s purity. Purple signifies both penance and royalty. The bitterness of the oranges suggests Mary’s anguish and Christ’s bitter cup. Sprigs of fresh chamomile (green) represent humility. The pale gold of the new wheat is produced by keeping it covered, away from sunlight. Its color suggests prayer made in secret that only God hears.
In the evening, the streets fill with people visiting the home altars. Refreshments are offered: fruit waters, popsicles, ice cream, and sweets all recalling the sweetness of Mary’s tears. Recorded local hymns of the passion can be heard from place to place. As with any Mexican celebration, impromptu kitchens spring up along the streets offering tacos, tamales, and other savory delights.
Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday)
Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday) is celebrated in San Miguel with two processions.
I left my apartment at 9:00 Sunday morning to walk the short distance to El Calvario (The Chapel of Our Lady of Solitude) at the top of calle San Francisco. El Calvario is the site of the beginning of a procession to recall Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. The street was empty. Soon, a few people—mostly fellow gringos—began to gather. At 9:30 a burro arrived on the back of a pick-up truck.
The crowd grew as members of the procession arrived: Jesus, disciples, acolytes, followers. At 10:00, the procession began a slow descent along calle San Francisco. Led by three acolytes followed by Jesus astride the burro, 12 men portraying the apostles, and other marchers, the procession made its way to the church of San Francisco where mass was celebrated. Arriving at San Francisco, the church’s bells rang wildly to welcome the procession.
The second Palm Sunday procession takes place along calle Sollano from Parque Juarez to the Jadin. The procession is lead by a priest followed by parishioners carrying a sculpture of Jesus riding a burro. The procession is escorted by a drum and bugle corps. Firework explode and the joyous clanging of church bells welcome the procession’s arrival at the Parroquia.
On Palm Sunday, intricately woven palm fronds shaped as crosses, flowers, stars, and other designs are sold outside the city’s churches. The palm frond objects are taken by their buyers to mass where they are blessed. Following mass, the objects are taken home where they are hung on doors and in windows to protect the family from evil.
Services, celebrations, and fireworks continued late into the day in one place or another all over San Miguel. Each celebration is an example of a long history of local custom honoring the principles of faith.