Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Birth of a Volcano


Imagine for a moment that you are a farmer, and your farm is far from civilization in the mountains of central Mexico, outside a little village called Parícutin. It is February 20th, 1943. It is a day like any other day and you and your wife are in the cornfield burning shrubbery. The weather is comfortably warm and the sky is clear, so it is with some surprise that you hear what you assume is the rumbling of thunder.

Now, though, you can also feel the ground shaking a little under your feet and you realize that the sound is coming from beneath the cornfield. Smoke begins to rise from across the field, having no relation to the burning shrubbery. You both stop to watch as the ground beneath the column of smoke begins to rise up. The ground is shaking more violently now and the rumblings are ear-shattering.


Photo by Wikipedia


This is what happened to P'urhépecha farmer, Dionisio Pulido and his wife Paula, in their cornfield 70 years ago today. In just one week the volcano reached a height of five stories. During the first year the volcano remained in it’s pyroclastic, or explosive, phase and the nearby villages of Parícutin and San Juan Parangaricutiro were buried in lava and ash.



Photo of the 1943 eruption from Wikipedia


By the end of 1943 the volcano had risen to a height of 336 meters (1,102 feet) and during the next 8 years continued to spew lava from smaller eruptions until it had seared the land around it for 25 square kilometers (9.7 square miles). The violence of the eruptions continued to decline until the last 6 months of 1951 when the volcano had it’s last hurrah before going quiet in 1952. It now stands 424 meters (1,391 feet) above Dionisio’s cornfield, casting a shadow over miles of volcanic rock and devastation.


cone Volcano

Parícutin as it looks today


As with most small towns in Mexico the center of the village of Paricutin was it’s church. When the village succumbed to the might of the volcano the church was buried along with everything else, but it still holds it’s spire high above the volcanic rock as a reminder of what came before. Today you can visit the site and climb among the rocks peeking into what can still be seen above the lava line.


ct pc

Parícutin Church Spire


As you drive into the town of Angahuan, not far from the site of the buried church of Parícutin, it is likely that you will be immediately surrounded by men on horseback. The renting of horses for the trek to the site of the buried town is one of the main methods of making a living here and the competition is stiff! On one of our visits we wanted to look around town a little before entering into negotiations with the caballeros and when we managed drive free of the fray, were chased (by men on horseback) for blocks before parking the car and once again becoming surrounded. It’s about a 45 minute ride over some rough terrain to reach the site and in the rainy season it is a river of mud, so it is well worth the price to rent a horse. Not to mention the entertainment of the negotiations.


j20090407_11 (2)

My Trusty Steed


For those of you who don’t believe in miracles, pay close attention to what I am about to say. The church of Parícutin was buried right up to the altar…..where the 30 foot wall of lava stopped! I have sat on that 30 foot wall and looked across the short expanse of clear area to the altar, untouched by lava. Folks nowadays make pilgrimages to this altar to leave a little something and pray for a miracle for themselves or their families.


j20090205_123 (2)

Altar Untouched by Lava


The top half of the altar is covered with vases and flowers and crucifixes, but the bottom half is what really touched me. It is full of everyday things, left by poor people hoping to be granted their own particular miracle. The assortment is amazing.




smal stuff


j20080910_170 (2)



Happy Birthday Parícutin

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Carnival In Mexico


Carnival is celebrated throughout the world during the week prior to Ash Wednesday and since Mexico is a largely Catholic country it’s a pretty big deal here. However, celebrations vary radically depending on your location. For example, Patzcuaro is a major destination for tourists wanting to experience Day of the Dead, but Carnival is almost completely overlooked there. For the last week my neighbourhood here in San Miguel has been alive with cohetes and noise makers, New Year’s Eve revisited. The cities with the largest and most elaborate celebrations are Vera Cruz and Mazatlan, but not to be outdone, San Miguel de Allende makes a pretty good effort to compete.


s 20120930_157

Mojigangas, Giant Paper Mache Figures


These celebrations are a festival of the libido meant to get all the debauchery out of people's systems before the abstinence of Lent begins. The word Carnival actually comes from Latin, meaning “to take away” or “goodbye to meat”, and many devout Catholics will refrain from eating meat for the upcoming 40 days of Lent.

The events usually begin with the Quema del Mal Humor or The Burning of Bad Humor which is the burning in effigy of an unpopular political figure, or in some places a Satanic figure. After this the King and Queen of Carnival are crowned, beginning a week long string of festivities.There is music, food, dancing and, of course, parades and fireworks. Mojigangas, huge paper mache figures, put in an appearance in many parades here, but none are quite as festive, and often risqué, as those used in the Carnival parades.

El Jardin, San Miguel’s main plaza, is alive with colour during this time. The vendors sell all the trappings of Carnival and the kids chase bubbles and strew colourful confetti among the benches and trees. Prior to Carnival the mercados fill with eggs, emptied of their gloppy innards and filled with confetti, and during Carnival Week children throughout the city lob these at each other, leaving a trail of confetti on their clothes, in their hair and on the streets.


IMGP1283 Bubbles in El Jardin


The celebrations culminate on the "Martes de Carnaval", or Mardi Gras, the French term meaning Fat Tuesday. One last blow-out party ending with the burning of another effigy, “Juan Carnaval”, which is representative of all the indulgence and carnal revelry of the past week. This act puts an end to the wantonness of Carnival and begins the abstinence of Lent. The following morning is Ash Wednesday, when the people of San Miguel will go to church and receive ashes, after which Lent will begin.



Sunday, February 3, 2013

Dia De La Candelaria


On February second Christians all over the world celebrate Candlemas Day. Traditionally on this day, candles to be used in the church throughout  the coming year were brought into the church and a blessing was said over them by the priest. Thus the day became known as The Festival Day or “Mass” of the Candles.

Candlemas Day is observed by many different religious denominations and is known by several different names. A couple of the most common being, the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, and the Meeting of the Lord. According to Jewish law it was necessary for a woman to bring her baby to the temple 40 days after the birth of the child. She would then undergo a purification ceremony. Since Jesus was born on December twenty fifth he would have been taken to the temple on February second. The picture below is a stained glass window at St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto showing the baby Jesus in the temple.


Photo by Wikipedia


This was all news to me, which is surprising considering my rather strict Anglican upbringing. The main significance that the second of February has always held for me is that it is Groundhog Day. It is the mid-way point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox and the legends surrounding it are many and varied throughout the world. Here in Mexico it is an interesting blend of the old and the new, of science, nature, legend and religion. Although Dia de la Candalaria is celebrated with religious ceremonies, parties, fireworks and cohetes, that is not the end of the affair. It goes on for a week.

One important tradition during this time involves the Niño Dios, a representation of the Christ child in the form of a doll. It is not uncommon for a family to own a Niño Dios, which they place in a nativity scene. On January sixth, Dia de Tres Reyes, or Three Kings Day the Niño Dios, along with all the other kids in the house, is brought gifts by the three magi.

On that evening there is usually a party during which the rosca de reyes, a ring of sweet bread is served. Somewhere hidden inside the bread is a figurine of the baby Jesus and the individual who finds this figurine is required to become the “Godparent” of the Niño Dios and is responsible for him until Dia de la Candelaria, when they will dress him in beautiful clothes and take him to the temple to be blessed. After this all the remnants of Christmas are put away until the next year and the “Godparent” serves atole and tamales to friends and family at a party that evening. Hence the fireworks and cohetes.


20120204_70 (1024x683)

Parque Juárez


It is also the time of year to perform the blessings of the seeds and prepare the land for spring planting. In San Miguel the beautiful Parque Juárez is transformed into the biggest plant and flower sale that I have ever seen. Crowds stroll through the myriad of offerings, choosing what will go into their gardens this Spring. Young boys with carts or wheelbarrows weave in and out amid the throngs delivering plants from vendor to car. Whether you want fresh herbs for your kitchen garden, palms beside your pool or bromeliads for your forest hideaway you can find them at  Parque Juárez during  the week of Candelaria.


20120204_75 (683x1024)

Heave Ho


It seems to me that holidays and celebrations take on a whole new meaning in Mexico. Maybe it’s the rich history and strong traditions that make the difference. Maybe it’s the outlook of the people here. Or maybe it’s just that Mexico sure knows how to party!


20120204_74 (1024x683)


20120204_93 (683x1024)