BY RODRIGO LABARDINI
AMBASSADOR OF MEXICO IN AZERBAIJAN
It may or may not be a sheer act of randomness or a twist of fate, but several of the popular celebrations in Mexico take place in the penultimate golden season of the year: autumn. Its first month, September, known in Mexico as the ‘Month of the Motherland’ (El mes de la patria), is filled with the visible annual changes in nature, particularly because of the hot weather, but also the rainy months of summer are giving way to subdued temperatures with bouts of wind and sun. However, they come bustling with feelings of pride and patriotism, of anxious expectation to hear the bells ring, clanging for a fight fought two centuries gone.
All of this fills the hearts of millions of Mexicans, both in the country, as well as abroad. As most of us know, on September 15th-16th, Mexico marks its Independence Day, celebrating the famous Grito de Dolores (The Call of Dolores Town). This ceremony symbolizes the act, which started the Mexican War of Independence. According to history, El Grito de Dolores consisted of the call that priest, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla made to his parishioners to rise up against the authorities of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, on the very early hours of September 16, 1810, when he rang the bells of the Parish of Dolores – today the municipality of Dolores Hidalgo – in the state of Guanajuato. This event is commemorated every year, in every city and every place where you’ll find a Mexican representative. This date is considered the beginning of the war that culminated in Mexico’s independence.
It is a festive time, where people gather in large multitudes to commemorate this day. In the Zocalo, Mexico City’s main square, this is a unique day. Anything between 300,000 and 500,000 people gather, with a feeling of fiesta and pride for the past that has been brought back to the present. As time progresses, as the slow ticks of time go by, a hum and general sensation in a gradual build of anxiety. At five minutes to 11 pm, all eyes converge to the main balcony in Mexico’s presidential palace, awaiting, yearning for the President to come out to the balcony, holding the Mexican flag, ringing the bell, and calling out the names of Mexican independence heroes, to carry out the renewal of the symbols of the flag. The flag is green for a hopeful future, white for the purity of the ideals and red to remember the blood of heroes who gave us the country; all to summarize in three strong ¡Viva México!
But just as September is associated with the Motherland, October carries us to the Western corner, in the state of Jalisco. It is the perfect month to enjoy Mexican culture in all its splendor. The festival begins with the traditional parade of allegorical cars where mariachis brighten up the place. Throughout the month, different artistic expressions are presented: concerts by national and international artists, dance exhibitions, film sessions, painting exhibitions, ballet, workshops and the traditional Palenque. Additionally, you will see rooster-fights, as well as mechanical games, Mexican snacks, exhibitions, food, (oh, the food!), and artisanal and industrial products, sports activities, and more, in beautiful Guadalajara – and some thirty minutes away to Tequila town – where you can find an interesting drink, I believe you may know.
Alternatively, Guanajuato is full of life, with the famous callejoneadas (alley-walks) and the international artistic Cervantino Festival. For more than a month, the city, with its cobblestone streets, traditional and colonial constructions, an aqueduct (that’s used as a road during dry season), and the tuna or musical walking bands that go through hundreds of alleys, are full of stories and nostalgia. One of them, the famous Callejón del Beso (Alley of the Kiss), remembers Leyli and Majnun, as the young couple in love whose parents, and families of two neighboring and adjacent houses, forbade their children to see each other; only for the young man and woman to talk to each other from balcony to balcony, rendering sweet kisses, because the distance between balconies is but a few inches apart.
The golden season of the year further includes the celebrations of the Day of the Dead – one of the most exemplary and iconic expressions of Mexican culture. As a land with ancient and millennial history, Mexico demonstrates its long-standing traditions with El Día de Muertos. The essential meaning of this festivity is to pay homage to the blessed memory of our deceased, loved ones, as well as to acknowledge that death is a part of life, not to be seen as taboo or tragedy, but as a celebration of life; one in which the living, show their respect and love by remembering those who have preceded us. Amongst the important symbols of these celebrations, the altar of the dead stands out, set up by each family, in honor of their loved ones. One of the main decorative elements of this period is the cempasuchitl or marigold. It is a plant, native to Mexico and Central America that blooms in autumn. According to legends, its yellow/orange petals mark the path that the souls must travel during the visit they make on this day, as these flowers are supposed to keep the heat of the sun and their aroma is a call that cannot be refused.
Autumn is an expression of ceremonies and festivities. It is Mexico, with food prepared for these times, traditions that await one year to come back and flourish again. It is the expression of the end of summer, but without the cold breath of winter. A season stressing to us all, that while the leaves may shake and decay, as life continues its unswerving path, the relentless passage of time is not fortuitous, but instead, the nascent renewal of ourselves, with music, mariachis, alleys, love and traditions – a reminder that while leaves have fallen, the twigs remain, and there, a new nest shall be foraged in the spring.