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Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Flower Carpet Night in the Huamantla Annual Festival

Each year the village of Huamantla holds a festival in August which is attended by thousands of locals and visitors alike. We attended the opening earlier this month where we served atole hot drinks and pan de dulce sweet bread to people after the opening mass and saw the donkey races in the street the following day.

Last weekend we returned to Huamantla for the night when most of the streets in the centre of town are closed so beautiful floral carpets made of coloured saw dust decorate the streets. In addition the walls of the buildings lining the street are decorated with flowers and banners and streamers are strung across the street to create a beautiful, transformed street. The shop owners in each street work together to pay for and construct these amazing floral displays. They start decorating their street in the afternoon in order for them to be completed by midnight. Throughout the evening people wander along the streets appreciating the creations.

In addition to the carpets, all the shops are open and street stalls are set up selling lots of different types of food, Mexican textiles, pottery and a myriad of other curios so people can shop and eat all night. 

Outside the cathedral each day during the festival a new carpet made of flowers, fruit and the coloured saw dust is constructed. On this night the cathedral is filled with more new floral arrangements and a special mass is held at 11pm, in time for people to see the carpets being finished at midnight after the  service.

If you don't feel like eating, shopping, strolling by the carpets or going to mass, there is also a side show alley with plenty of rides and of course the Corona and Sol stands competing with one another to sell the most beer.

Sadly, this year there was a downpour just before midnight and all the carpets in the streets were washed away. I thought that would be the end of the evening, but no. Once the rain stopped at about midnight, bands started playing in the streets for people to listen and dance to and the debris from the old carpets swept away so new carpets could be made.

We had an early night and finished dancing about 2am before walking home.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

My First Quinceanos (15th Birthday) Celebration

Last night I attended my first fiesta for a 15th birthday and in spite of having an idea what to expect I was still quite blown away at the magnitude of the event. There would easily be as much planning (and cost) involved with a girl's 15th birthday party as with a wedding.

Of course, the event started with a mass to which the birthday girl, called a Quincenera arrived in a car decorated with flower - just like a wedding car. She looked just like a beautiful princess complete with glittering gown and tiara and was accompanied by her parents, brothers and sisters who were all carefully dressed to match her purple gown. Also with her were 4 boys, dressed in suits and purple waistcoats as her attendants. These boys later featured in the dances which she performed for her guests at the fiesta. Traditionally, these boys were relations or friends of hers, but in recent times they are hired especially for the event for their dancing ability.

After the mass in the church, the Quincenera moved to the front of the church to pose for photos and for people to line up to have their photo taken with her. The fiesta in the salon started at 8pm, an hour after the mass finished to allow no doubt for more photos and to allow guests to do their last minute present shopping.

Over 200 invited guests attended the mass and the fiesta in a salon afterwards. Unlike a lot of Mexican fiestas though, the invitees received invitations containing the exact start time and a pass with their name on it. Therefore, people were expected to arrive on time and not to bring any other friends or family along with them for the celebration. This way the family knows how many people they need to cater for at the salon. Even so, some people arrived late and I expect there were a few spare seats for last minute arrivals.

The salon was decorated as if for a wedding, complete with a magnificent cake and a high table for the Quincenera and her family at the front of the room and the Quincenera was officially announced as she entered the room with her parents, the Padrinos (or  Godparents) who paid for much of the fiesta and her 4 male dancing attendants.

Before and during the meal the Quincenera visited every table to thank people for coming and to receive their congratulations and presents.

Later in the night the mother of the Quincenera distributed small boxes of sweets as gifts to each guest and some larger gifts to selected guests.

After dinner she and her four attendants performed choreographed dances for us. The boys were quite good and confident and she looked lovely, but so very nervous and uncomfortable. She definitely appeared to enjoy herself at any other time of the night.

There were four or five dances performed, some featuring the Quincenera and the her four dancers, however some featured only her four dancers, presumably so she had time for the costume changes she required to perform the love songs in her princess dress, pop numbers in her modern gear and the grease number shown here.

After the dance presentation, her father was invited to the floor to waltz with his daughter. After her father, the Padrino was called, followed by Uncles, Nephews and friends until it seemed like almost every invited male guest had danced with her.

The dance floor opened with a light and music show at abt 11am, when everyone hit the floor. Other than a short break for the official cake cutting, the dancing didn't stop until 3.30am when the lights were turned on and the music off and we enjoyed a mixture of salsa, disco, Banda (a form of Mexican country) and danzon.  To complement the party mood, bottles of spirits were distributed for each table during and after the meal and very attendant waiters ensured peoples' glasses were never empty.

Oh what a night for a 15th birthday party!!

Huamantla Village Festival Opening

Last Saturday night we helped my fiance's mum prepare enough Atoli and buy enough Pan de dulce (sweet bread) to serve to about 500 people after the 6am opening mass of the annual festival of the Huamantla village.  Atoli is a hot drink made of corn flour, water, sugar and vanilla. You can also add other flavours like chocolate or fruit to taste and we added chocolate to ours.

Preparing and serving this food and drink is a family tradition for my fiance's Mum and her family and she has been doing this for more than 50 years when she inherited the responsibility from her Mum. Her brother and sister also honour this tradition by serving hot rice, milk drink which tastes like hot runny rice pudding to drink with Tamales to eat.

Like Atoli, Tamales also have a corn flour base which is made into masa (dough), wrapped with sweet or savoury filling in corn leaves and steamed until cooked. They are very traditional Mexican food that dates back to the Mayas which are filling and very tasty.

After leaving home at 4.00am we arrived at the church by 5.30am in plenty of time to hear Mariachis playing in the church before the opening 6.00am mass.

Flowers are an important part of this Huamantla festival, so the church is decorated beautifully with flowers and outside there is a carpet of flowers, which is like a beautiful mural on the floor of flowers and interesting carrots for the colour orange! Throughout the festival more carpets of flowers will be made outside the church and on one day during the festival carpets of flowers will be made on some of the streets, which will be closed for the purpose.

After mass, we moved to the trucks where we and a few other families served the hundreds of people lining up to enjoy a hot drink and tamale or pan de dulce on the cold morning. 

As we finished serving food and the crowd started to clear, fireworks were let off from the roof of the church. It was an official and organised part of the festival which took me by surprise, as I hadn't expected a church to be used as the launch location for fireworks. However, in hind sight, it would not have been fitting for a Mexican festival to open without fireworks and most festivals involve the church.

Later in the day we visited the main street to see the donkeys. As is the tradition, some people choose to dress their donkeys from hoof to ear in fancy dress. Unless you were told it would be easy to think the donkeys were people dressed up in clothes to look like a donkey because there is so little of the poor little donkey actually visible.

Other enter their donkeys in the street racing. It is incredible to see how small donkeys actually are in relation to their passengers. Also interesting is how the donkeys choose to travel at their own pace regardless of the amount of "encouragement" they are given by their riders or by the helpers who run behind some of the donkeys to provide further "encouragement".

Another feature of the festival is the 'running of the toros (bulls)' - just like they do in Spain. I haven't seen that yet, but I am led to believe it is almost as exciting and dangerous for the crowd as well as the runners.