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Festivities "The days which belong to everyone"
All celebration days are observed in Oaxaca, profane and religious, local and international, individual and community-related. The schedule for the parties can be as busy as for the market with which celebrations share a meeting place and custom’s scenario.
The most important fiesta is "Guelaguetza". This is a celebration of the mutual offering, but many of them have a sense of "Guelaguetza", participation, and community. The fiestas revisit the past through dances, typical attire, customs, calends (processions with paper lamps and huge fabric marmots with candles inside), or the altar for the dead, for the Day of the Dead, very dear to the traditions of some indigenous communities that used to build their houses over the graves of their ancestors.
The meaningful moments varied in each one according the type of celebration (processions, fireworks, food, presents), but there is usually dancing and music. The marimba and orchestra sounds, pre-Hispanic dances (the combat between the gentleman Tiger and the gentleman Eagle). Colonial forms (Dispute between Moors and Christians), or magic elements, such as the mysterious sounds of Mazateco of Huautla, the place of the eagles. And of course, multicolor dresses, flowers, footwork, witty rimes, and endless flirting. Life is expressed and celebrated in every neighborhood, and every city, and often, in Oaxaca.
The Gift of all Peoples of Oaxaca
Guelaguetza is a Zapotec word meaning present, mutual offering. Since ancestral times, Zapotecs have practiced the "Guelaguetza" custom: a present as a symbol of participation in society. It is celebrated with the most important celebration in Oaxaca: Lunes del Cerro (Monday of the Hill) on the next two Mondays after the fiesta for the Virgen del Carmen (July 16) that brings together the entire state to represent, in the central act, a fabulous show of music, dance, and song, and for a grand finale, the most representative products of the region are thrown to the audience.
The celebration of Lunes del Cerro dates back to pre-Hispanic rituals in honor of Centeotl, the corn Goddess. When the Spaniards arrived, Franciscan and Dominican orders forbade worship to Centeotl, destroyed the altar situated on the Daninayaoloani slopes, the Buena Vista Hill, today called Cerro del Fortin. In its place, they built a catholic temple in honor of the Virgen of Monte Carmelo, today called Carmen Alto Temple. During Mexico’s independence and revolution, the celebration honoring the Virgen del Monte Carmelo continued among the people, who would climb the mountain for a picnic after the religious services. In 1932, on the City of Oaxaca 400th anniversary, representatives from all parts of the State paid homage to the State Capital with music, dancing, great shows, and a "Guelaguetza" representing the City. These dances had a big impact on Oaxacans, who decided to repeat it in the Cerro del Fortin during the Lunes del Cerro celebration. In 1953, they incorporated permanently the traditional Guelaguetza and the Lunes del Cerro celebrations, and in 1974, they inaugurated an auditorium with a capacity for 11,400 persons.
The big fiesta, one of the most spectacular in America is accompanied by several parallel activities; among them the parade of delegations, election of the Centeotl representative, chosen among communities most knowledgeable about the tradition of its people, and the Bani Sui Gulal (Repetition of Ancient Times), that narrates in the form of a play, the history of Lunes del Cerro.
On both Lunes del Cerro (the first and its octave), the Guelaguetza starts in the auditorium with the huge chirimias, marmots parade that precedes the modes woman of Oaxaca, the market woman, and its most typical musical expression: Jarabe del Valle. Then come the regional representatives with their incomparable typical attire, and popular dances. The dance offering concludes with the Danza de la Pluma (The Feather Dance), music and dance commemorate the indigenous struggle against the Spanish conquistador. At the end of each dance, every village showers the audience with samples of its typical products, and when the festivities are over, the spectators can enjoy "trompadas", "pepitorias", "gollorias", "cocadas", "turrones", and "alegrias", offered by the vendors at the foothills.
At night, the auditorium fills again to welcome the representation of the founding of Oaxaca: the legend of the Zapotec Princess, Donaji. She was given as a hostage to Mixtecs to preserve the peace of in the Oaxaca Valleys. As Verdi’s Aïda, the Zapotec heroine had a tragic faith: she accepted death, and loss of her beloved, Mixteca Prince Nucano, before betraying her people. Donaji favored a Zapotec attack to liberate her, but it failed. In retaliation, her captors decapitated her. The legend says that death did not take Donaji’s beauty, and it is intact in the grave she shares with her beloved in the main altar of the Cuilapan de Guerrero.
Calendar of Events
• Holy Week ("Semana Santa")
March (City of Oaxaca)
The festivities start on the Friday before Palm Sunday with installation and visit of popular altars that are placed in honor of Mary in family homes. Among other celebrations are Palm Sunday, Good Tuesday, Thursday and Friday ceremonies, and the solemn procession that begins on Good Friday, from the atrium of the Basilica de la Soledad and continues through the Historical Center’s main streets.
• Lunes del Cerro
On the two consecutive Mondays after July 16th (City of Oaxaca)
It is held in the Guelaguetza Auditorium, in the Cerro del Fortín. There are parallel activities and festivities during the Guelaguetza celebration.
• All Saints Day ("Día de los Muertos")
November 1st and 2nd
Graves are decorated with flowers in all cemeteries. Families build altars at home with flowers, fruit, and food, Mezcal, cigarettes, or any other favorite of the dearly departed. It is believe that, on that day their spirits visit and take the offering’s essence.
• Virgen de Juquila
December 8th (Santa Catarina Juquila)
It is small image of the virgin that belonged to Friar Jordan de Santa Catalina who gave it to an Amialtepec indigene. In Amialtepec started the custom to worship the image. The celebration in her honor is a great popular fair.
• Virgen de Guadalupe
The celebration in honor of the Virgen de Guadalupe is a national religious festivity that commemorates the legend of the Virgen del Tepeyac, Patron Saint of Mexico. In Oaxaca, the celebration begins with a greeting song (mañanitas), and ends at nightfall, after mass, with fireworks and snacks.
• Virgen de la Soledad (Virgin of Solitude)
December 18th (City of Oaxaca)
The Santa María worship began during the early years of colonization. She is the Patron Saint of Oaxaca. December 18th is a day of religious jubilation, with fiestas, bell tolling, music, liturgical services, and fireworks.
• Noche de Rabanos (Night of the Radish)
December 23rd (Zócalo, City of Oaxaca)
An authentic verbena of unique content and strong popular flavor, during which ingeniously crafted images made out of radishes (cultivated in the region) are exhibited. It originally took place in the Trinidad de las Huertas neighborhood, and now comes from San Antonino Castillo Velasco and other communities.
• Calendas (Calends)
December 24th (Zócalo, City of Oaxaca)
The eve of December 24, marks the end of the traditional "posadas" (Christmas parties) celebration. "Posadas" reenact the efforts of the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph to find shelter in Bethlehem. On this night, all catholic temples in the city prepare a Christmas float or of a patron saint of their neighborhood. At 11:00 p.m., the floats converge in the Cathedral.