DIA DE LA CRUZ
Dia de la Cruz is a holiday for the Mexicans in which they celebrate the construction workers with a ritual that has been going on literally for centuries. There are a lot of myths about the origin of the day and its name. From the Spanish articles online, I picked the most likely and least superstitious.
Mexico adopted the cross as the symbol for its celebration of the masons on May 3. This tradition dates from the colonial era with the formation of the guilds—we would now call unions—and according to old chronicles, the incorporation of the cross was impelled by Fray Pedro de Gante. In spite of the suppression of this celebration (and it was not included in the liturgical calendar by Pope John XXIII), the masons of Mexico kept this tradition alive. Given the religious fervor of the locals, the Mexican Episcopate eventually made the arrangements themselves, so that in Mexico the celebration of the Holy Cross would continue, with or without the pope’s permission.
It is also believed that the celebration of the Day of the Holy Cross was inherited from pre-Hispanic times. In Mexico, Spanish and pre-Hispanic cultures are mixed. The day of the cross had its antecedent in the rituals practiced by the pre-Columbian cultures for the request to the gods for rains and good harvests which took place at the beginning of the agricultural cycle, around the first days of May.
(Back entrance to the Panteon-cemetery)
(Mural: If you wondered what’s behind the wall…by Javier Zaragoza)
(A curious gringo looking in?)
(Ceramic plate by Salvador Vasques: the introduction of horses with the Spanish soldiers)
When the Spanish priests (and not to forget: the soldiers) arrived in the old Mexican territory, they modified some of the old Roman Catholic beliefs, so that the converts would easier accept it when it had more similarities with their old beliefs. Thus, during the time of the Spanish Colony (1521-1821), the pre-Hispanic ritual for the request of rain to Tláloc, god of the rain, was transformed into prayers for good harvests and was incorporated into the devotion of the Holy Cross. This used to be on the first Sunday of May within the Catholic calendar. The day on the so-called Marian calendar (inspired on what the mother of Jesus Christ did on any given day in the year) was the day on which the Virgin Mary made the request to her son Jesus, but I am unaware what the request was. From the twentieth century on, the great feast of prayer for a good harvest became linked more strongly to the activity of all construction workers, both in rural towns and cities. The day is now always on May 3.
Other sources indicate that the celebration of Day of the Holy Cross in Mexico dates back to the sixteenth century, when Captain Juan de Grijalva named the Island of Cozumel, (in the state of Quintana Roo) Isla de la Santa Cruz. The masons took the name of the Cruz celebration as their own, due to a legend that in a village of Tabasco the villagers carried out a procession with a cross, but in the end, the cross always returned to its place of origin.
(Aztec dancer, photo by Dane Strom).
Whatever the origin, currently the celebration to the masons on the Day of the Holy Cross is intended to express the value of their work as one of the worthiest trades, because this union builds not only the homes we inhabit but also public buildings and many more works that are indicative of the progress of the cities. The workers place a decorated cross (made by their wives) on top of anything under construction on that day.
The stations with the crosses (in the streets) become the collection stations for fruit and baked good and vegetables for those neighbors which happen to collect those for an hour or so before the start of the festivities. At the end of the day, the neighbors gather, drink refreshments (I was offered a fresh fruit drink from guayabas), and share treats.
I went out to see what it all was about. My next door neighbor turned out to be one of the committee members, and she invited me to sit and enjoy with them. The men get their stronger drinks themselves from inside the homes—if they have to drink—and the whole street is full of people including many children of all ages, adolescents too, and of course a dog or two. Further up in the street were mariachis playing.
Watercolor painting Torrito by Dionicio.
The committee of three neighbors record the gifts and which family is on the receiving end, so the next year those roles will be reversed. It is a true neighborhood party, with everybody hanging out, some of them sitting on the sidewalks (which are quite hight, connected to the rainy season when rivers run down to the lake!) or on stools or plastic chairs. It reminded me of the custom of the potlatch of our indigenous Canadians.
(Sources: noticierostelevisa.esmas.com, zocalo.com.mx, elsiglodetorreon.com.mx)
The masons and other construction laborers work long hours under the hot sun, their physical activity far exceeds any exercise in a gym and their mathematical ability would be the envy of a high school student. May 3 is their day, called the celebration of the holy cross.
(Earlier that day I had seen the “torritos” in the yard of a fire technician who constructs the body of paper-mache and bamboo and attaches fireworks to it. A daring young buck hauls the contraption on his shoulders and runs through the streets with the fireworks lit. Much fun is had by all. Not something that is allowed anywhere but in Mexico!
I asked what he would charge for one torrito: 2500 pesos. Later that night I saw a couple of them sitting in my street at the festivities, but I didn’t end up seeing them run the torritos; I probably was in bed—after 11 pm).
In the time of houses constructed from plywood, gyprock board, pressed chipboard and two by fours, the value and the understanding of the craft of masons is for the most part lost on residents of our North American society. It takes to actually see the boveda ceilings being constructed out of brick to believe that those bricks won’t fall down on your head. Basically, it is based on the construction of arches.
From Wikipedia: The construction of arches is an old craft: its inherent strength and the underlying principle of internal balance that keeps the bricks in place dates back to the 2nd millennium BC in Mesopotamian brick architecture. The systematic use started with the ancient Romans, who were the first to apply the technique to a wide range of structures.
The strength of the ceiling is in the bricks, arranged in rows of four bricks with mortar between them, and held up by iron beams as the only external support system. It still boggles my mind to see it actually working. These ceilings are so strong that a grown man can stand on top of it. This is how Mexican boveda ceilings and the roofs are built, and the more intricate cupulas.
Just for fun, I am adding a photo of a mural with the whole family of the owner of Viva Mexico, a restaurant in the next town over, San Juan Cosala. In Mexico, the family is the most important entity in a person’s life.
In the tradition of painting the advertising right on walls, this is a photo of a new ad for a mural-painting business.
A new arch for the benefit of tourists that might need directions called the Gate to the Lake — Heart of Ajijic: Puerta del Lago — Corazon de Ajijic.
This is the latest modification, together with the extra-wide flagstones on this road that is closed for cars on the weekends that makes it easier to stroll down to the lake. Restaurants put their tables right in the street. Some other day I’ll take the photo with the tourists too.