Carnival Time in Mexico
A few shots of the riot of color that is carnivalClick thumbnail to view full-size
Often more subdued but lots of family fun
All over the world, but especially in the central and south of the North American continent, springtime means carnival - or carnaval - season. Mexico is no exception to this 'golden rule, which may have once meant going without meat, (Carne - meat, va - go), but these days means days, or a week and more of decoration, fun, music, dance and lots of meaty tacos!
The dates all over the Republic make these soirees indeed moveable feasts, or fiestas, as they vary from late February until early March.
Carnivals in Mexico are not quite so abandoned and hectic as those found in Rio and (once) in New Orleans. Hedonism takes somewhat of a back seat to family entertainment.
The two possible exceptions to this are the week-long shindig in Vera Cruz, a party-hearty town at the worst of times - (and with Mexico's best sea-food thrown in) - and the one in Tepancingo (details follow). Merida and Mazatlan also host memorable fiestas.
Mexico City once held carnivals as well, but they have almost disappeared after their hey-day in the middle of the Nineteenth Century. Large private parties during this season are the way the better-heeled 'Capitalinos enjoy themselves, often taking over one of the top restaurants and carrying on until dawn breaks.
The exception to this in the capital - known as the D.F., for Distrito Federal, are the "comparsas," mostly male entertainers who don fancy costumes and masks to dance down the streets or entertain at the private fiestas where they are wined, dined and paid as well.
It is a poor and forgotten village indeed that doesn't hold at least some celebration for its few families and their kids. These fiestas throughout rural Mexico usually begin around February 2nd (Candlemas Day). They begin with a service in the local church where purification ceremonies include blessing seeds, candles and, occasionally, stock and pets.
Here are some of the fiestas which would be worth a visit and you only have a month or so to arrange your tickets!
Huehotzingo, Puebla. This may be the most brilliant and elaborate of all the village carnivals. It dramatizes and re-inacts the capture of one of the regions most famous bandits, Augustin Lorenzo. It can resemble a mini battle at its height and is highly recommended..
Santa Ana and the Penon (close to Mexico City). A similar "play" is enacted here, and they have a charming ceremony where they "bury" sadness and bad humour...what a great idea and should ensure the undying love of the Gringo - at least for the day.
Huixquilucan, Edo. de Mexico. This carnival actually brings to light, annually, a great feud that once existed in the village and has never been forgotten in local lore, a-la Hatfield's and the McCoy's! In fact, if you are really lucky, a real brouhaha may evolve from the make-believe as descendents of the previous warring clans have a few too many tequilas; something untoward gets said about somebody else's cojones, or their mother's proclivity for charging a few pesos for her favours, and the feud erupts anew with real guns and bullets!
Zachila, Oaxaca. Strange how many carnivals take the form of old battles and recall past enmities. I suppose, as sex is supposedly banned at Carnival time (Ha!), release takes the form of pretend - or actual - violence. This is a large and popular carnival and one I recommend because of the locality, close to the capital, Oaxaca, one of the most attractive cities in the Republic. The place has a gorgeous plaza, or square, shaded by wild fig and ash trees which resounds with music and pageantry. Most imaginative costumes. Look out for the "devils" that fight with long canes which have colourful, geometric figures attached.
Tuxpan, Jalisco. The state where the girls have the most alluring eyes. (Note, don't confuse with the Tuxpan in Chiapas a dump). This fiestas features much singing of Christian "myths," the bull dances and the burlesques sending-up Mexico treasure hunters. A long affair, last around nine days and held in the Casa Real (royal castle) a special Catholic enclave reserved for carnival. You may not like one of the highlights here, the killing of a young bull at the end of the ceremonies. Most readers will seek to avoid the revellers being doused in the bull's blood during its death throws.
Chenhalo, Chiapas Highlands. This is timed with the indigent, Indian calendar (almost in synch with ours). The villagers gain great cachet by appearing in one of the rituals and positions are sought one year in advance. The story will be a little difficult to follow by visitors and you may not be particularly welcomes there, although outright hostility is not common. The civil leaders join the revellers in the plaza and offer bottles around, plus horse races are held and much more. This begins on Ash Wednesday at the start of Lent and services are held all over.
Amecameca Edo de Mexico. This is the place to be far away from if the mighty volcano, Popocatepetl, (18,300 feet) erupts as the village is situated right at the foot of the mountain. Thousands of descendents of the Aztecs and Otomi tribes will be present as ever and this can get really wild. However, it is a wonderful place to visit at any time with a huge market, which is extended during carnival. It is only an hour or so, depending on traffic, from the capital. Visit the pulqueria if you can get in, watch out for barflies who will want to buy you a drink in return for two or three back. Don't take women in there during carnival.
Tepancingo, Morelos. During the fourth day of Lent, a big fiesta held here, just about 100 miles from Mexico City. A good carnival for those who like to carouse: booze and dance (etc!). Visits from "El Senor," a grandee in the church, also another good market.
Taxco, Guerrero. One of the most outstanding beauty spots in the world, Taxco lies high in the Sierras between Mexico City and Acapulco. You may know the place as the silver capital of Mexico. The big day is for "Santa Vera Cruz," on the fourth Friday. Nice boutique hotels (pricy) very hilly for walking around but all worth it.
La Paz, Baja South. Perhaps not the most memorable carnival you can attend, but one of the most peaceful and laid-back places (still) you will visit. Lost of inexpensive accomodation, as well as some up-market stuff for the luckier visitors. Lots of bars and drinking beer and listening to Norteno music is the background of this festival. Held on the sea-front (Malecon) Incredible setting at sundown.
Well, that's just a taste of the probably thousands of fiestas held nation wide. I am sure the internet will yield other treasure, but here are a few I know and have visited in the past 20 years.
Have a ball and...Viva Mexico!