Easter in Mexico: a blend of cultures
Santa Semana (Easter week) captured center stage last month in Ajijic. For me, it was a chance to really appreciate both the Mexican customs as well as enjoying some from back home.
The celebrations of our Mexican hosts begins with The Seven Sorrows of the Virgin Mary on Friday, April 11:
"Processions and special altars honoring Mary, the mother of Jesus, demonstrate that the faithful share the deep sorrows she witnessed through the life of her son. In this avocation (representation) she is La Virgen de Dolores (The Virgin of Pain or Sorrow) and is portrayed in blue and purple or black gowns as she stood at the foot of the cross."
Celebrations continued in the many Lakeside villages, with Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Even though I'm not Catholic, I enjoyed the various processions and watching how important these festivities and holy days are to the people of our villages.
The most dramatic of these days is, however, for me, the reenactment of the Passion Play in front of San Andres church a block from Ajijic's plaza. I've seen the play three times in my seven years and it never ceases to touch me at some deep place within.
Local thespians practice throughout the year, raising money for their costumes and props through various fund-raising events. The crown of thorns is real, the whipping of Jesus is real, drawing blood… and the huge cross Jesus carries to the place he will hang between two thieves is very real. "When he picks up the 150-pound cross to carry it through the village and up onto the mountain to the site of his crucifixion, spectators are visibly moved," my friend judy King writes. There is nary a dry eye in the crowd.
Youngsters are hanging from second-story windows, electricity and telephone poles and from the huge gates that open up into Saint Andrew's churchyard, struggling to get a look at the Passion Play as it progresses.
Human statues, painted silver and gold, stand on pedestals during the trial in difficult poses for nearly an hour without moving a muscle.
I watch, too, with more than a bit of envy, the closeness of the Mexican extended families-Dad with one child on his shoulders and another gripping his hand as they follow the procession from the church. Right behind him are his wife, mother and several other cousins, uncles and aunts, all coming together to celebrate an important time in their lives.
During Easter Week, not much stays open. It's a time for families to get away together to the beaches or to the homes of nearby relatives. The big cities of Guadalajara and Mexico City are nearly empty. Here in Ajijic, however, our streets are jam-packed with Guadalajarans who've come to witness the Passion Play and spend a day or two picnicking on the shore of Lake Chapala.
This year, because of the heat, instead of watching the now familiar Passion Play, I joined about 100 other Open Circle friends in the back gardens of the Lake Chapala Society where we had coffee and tea, giving us time to catch up on the week's events before listening to a presentation by a retired professor on our personal resurrections.
Open Circle is a spiritual group where folks walking many different paths can come together in meditation, hear a wide range of topics presented and have interesting discussions that encompass the whole person-body, mind and soul. Held outside under a huge tree, we listen to the buzzing of the bees, the cacophony of bird songs and just recently, our seasonal "rain birds" singing their mating call. The "rain birds" are really members of the locust family. The locals add 42 days to the day they first here them "sing" to foretell the coming of the rainy season.
After an introspective talk, the Open Circle community provided ham and croissants along with soft drinks and the rest of us brought our favorite Easter side dishes. Stuffed eggs, a myriad of salads, fresh fruit and desserts reminded us of Easter dinners with our own families back home. Many of the ladies wore their Easter bonnets with all type of frills upon them as we sat at tables under the great gazebo enjoying our "local" family of friends.
Then, one of my friends invited a couple of us up to her beautiful home in the Racquet Club overlooking the lake for an afternoon swim and a couple games of scrabble.
Having just visited with my immediate family in late March — son, daughter, mother and a very handsome eight-month old grandson — I felt doubly, maybe triply blessed. I feel like I have my birth family, my "expat" family and an extended Mexican family now. It's a life-expanding opportunity and one I'm truly thankful for.