June 15, 2012

Dia de los Locos

The scarecrow remains a popular costume choice
While in the United States and Canada we'll be celebrating Fathers on June 17, on that same Sunday, instead of "Diá de los Papas", San Miguel de Allende hosts the biggest and craziest parade and party of the year for Diá de los Locos. That's right: Day of the Crazies!

In colonial times, San Miguel was surrounded by large orchards that were irrigated by natural springs flowing through the city.  
On May 17, the feast day of San Pascual Bailon, a Franciscan, the Franciscan friars held a celebration outside the church for the orchard workers to honor this patron saint of field workers and kitchen workers. The friars blessed the orchards, and the workers, being probably far less interested in the saintliness and more interested in a day off, danced to give thanks. The Spanish land-owners allowed the workers to indulge on the fruits from the orchard that day and more likely than not, pulque was involved. Celebrants adorned themselves with kitchen tools and other symbols of their trade to honor the saint. As each year festivities gained more momentum and popularity, the field workers began to dress as scarecrows to distinguish themselves from the onlookers, Clown costumes soon followed, then monsters, animals, drunks, men in drag.. you get the idea. Things went CRAZY! 

San Antonio de Padua's feast day is on June 13. Somehow (this will come as no surprise to you if you've spent any time in the "real" Mexico) the two days gradually melded into one long party. Let's just say Dia de los Locos actually lasts a good week. The actual saints days are celebrated, with the devout in procession to the church carrying statuary of the saints being celebrated. Mornings begin early with 4 and 5am firework blasts. On June 13, the feast day of San Antonio, patron saint of seekers- of lost articles, lost people (this can be taken figuratively as well) and, I believe, students (seeking better grades, for example), there is quite a remarkable procession  to the Church of San Antonio as those devout seeking his help travel along the rough cobblestones on their knees for several blocks from the main street to the church. Family members and their supporters may assist them by cushioning the route with pieces of rug, corrugated cardboard, thin pillows, but the route (normally about a 5 minute walk) is torturous. Still, the devotion, need and hope are such that this ritual is carried out by young (I noted many teenagers) and the very old and frail. 

I don't imagine those who participate in this sublimation are parading 4 days later, but perhaps, if their prayers have been answered, a little dancing and celebrating might be just the thing. 

Neighbourhood groups and business/labor groups march together with elaborately-themed floats. All ages get into costume–some full-body fur suits, giant papermache heads, or sticky greasepaint make-up. The children are troopers, remaining in character throughout the length of the parade route (which amounts to about an hour under the searing sun)

Originally, paraders generously handed out the free fruit they were given by their employers to the onlookers; these days, the paraders throw candy into the crowds that line the streets. It's important to note that mid June is the temporada de calor in this part of Mexico–the hot season–where mid-day temperatures easily settle into the mid-90s and the sun is high and persistent. Umbrellas (parasols) are a popular cover, and, when turned upside down are great for catching the candy as it's thrown(sometimes with alarming velocity) into the crowd.Hands are outstretched and young and old chant : "Dulces! Dulces!" It's a backwards trick-or-treat with those in costume being the ones doling out the treats. 

The Locos throw candy into the crowd and up-ended parasols (umbrella) catch the treats as they rain down.

The thrill of spinning pyrotechnics
Playing with fire..
The day ends with great excitement as parties continue, particularly in the plaza outside the church of San Antonio. The community celebrates well into the night with entertainment, food stalls and finally, fireworks like I'd never seen or.. uh... felt before. Mexicans get up close and personal with their pyrotechnics–it's not for the faint-of-heart, more perhaps for the foolhardy, as the theme of loco continues with the borrachos (drunks) and of course the machos dancing under the spitting and sparking kinetic firework structures called castillos (castles). Click here to read a wonderful piece by Cristina Potters on the Mexican passion for fireworks

There's nothing quite like the smell of  gunpowder mingled with the aromas from steaming cauldrons of elote (corn, served shaved into cups with queso, mayonesa and chile picante) and tortillas being warmed over charcoal stoves. Ash floats through the air, while the occasional spark falls...well, sometimes on your sleeve, or in your hair, while young men dance directly under the shower of sparks. Yes, it's todo loco, but somehow, it makes you feel (or, ok, it makes ME feel) so invigorated and alive. The good things in life aren't always tidy and safe... sometimes they're just a little nuts! And for this, like so many other Mexican fiestas throughout the year, the families are all together, laughing, applauding and ahhh-ing at the fireworks, after a long day of parading under the hot sun in furry costumes. 

San Miguel de Allende in June–avoid the winter snowbirds, THIS is the best time to visit and discover its magic !

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