Mar 192017
 

Twice a year, at the spring and fall equinox, the sun is positioned directly over the equator, giving everywhere on the planet twelve hours day and twelve hours night. The spring or vernal equinox, which heralds the start of spring, usually falls on 20 March or 21 March, and is celebrated in many parts of the world as a time of fertility and rebirth.

Mexico is no exception, and here are the nine most magical places in Mexico to celebrate the spring equinox:

Nine Best Places for Spring Equinox

Nine Best Places in Mexico to witness the Spring Equinox

1. Chichen Itza, Yucatán

The Mayan archaeological site of Chichen Itza, between Mérida and Cancún, is a very popular place to witness the spring equinox. The Kulkulkan temple is a masterpiece, built according to precise astronomical specifications. At the equinoxes, the sun=s rays in the late afternoon dance like a slithering snake down the steps of the pyramid. Spectators may not realize that this pyramid has amazing acoustical properties as well:

The astronomical observatory known as El Caracol (“The Snail”) at Chichen Itza has features aligned so precisely that they helped the Maya determine the precise dates of the two annual equinoxes.

Serpent slithers down the steps of Kulkulcan pyramid, Chichen itza. Credit: Flickr:

Chichen Itza: serpent slithers down the steps of Kulkulkan pyramid,
Credit: Flickr: wowitsstephen

2. Dzibilchaltún, Yucatán

Dzibilchaltún, in the state of Yucatán, about 20 km from Mérida, is much less well known but equally fascinating. The rays of the rising sun (spectators arrive before 5 am) light up the windows and entrances of the Temple of the Seven Dolls in a spectacular display.

3. Great Temple, Mexico City

The Great Temple (Templo Mayor) in Mexico City marks the spot where legend says the Mexica priest Tenoch saw the promised sign of an eagle on a cactus indicating the original site for the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. The city was renamed Mexico City when the Spanish conquistadors defeated the Aztecs and eventually became the largest city in the western hemisphere. As the sun rises at the Equinox, its rays shine precisely between the two major temples at this historic site. This spectacle, probably once reserved for the priests, can now be enjoyed by all.

4. Teotihuacan, State of México

Teotihuacan (“the city of the gods”) is the single most visited archaeological site in Mexico and an outstanding location to witness the spring equinox. Within easy day trip range of Mexico City, Teotihuacan was once a bustling city housing an estimated 200,000 people. It holds a special place in Mexico’s archaeological history since it was the first major site to be restored and opened to the public ~ in 1910, in time to celebrate the centenary of Father Miguel Hidalgo’s call for Independence.

The original inhabitants erected marker stones on nearby hillsides to mark the position of the rising sun at the spring equinox as viewed from the Pyramid of the Sun. Many of the visitors at the spring equinox today dress in white and climb to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun in order to receive the special energy of the equinox. There is some concern about the problems that so many spring revelers may cause:

5. Malinalco, State of Mexico

There is no direct evidence that the ancients celebrated the equinox at this location, though the archaeological site certainly has a carefully determined orientation. However, perhaps on account of its accessibility from Mexico City, Malinalco, in the State of México, has become a popular place to see in the spring.

6. Xochicalco, Morelos

Xochicalco, in the state of Morelos, is equally easy to reach from Mexico City and was the site of a very important calendar-related conference in the 8th century BC. It attracts equnox viewers on account of its considerable astronomical significance from pre-Hispanic times.

The sites main claim to archeo-astronomy fame is not connected to the equinoxes but to the two days when the sun is at its zenith (directly overhead) here each year, on 15 May and 28 July. The vertical north side of a 5‑meter‑long vertical “chimney” down into one particular underground cave ensures that the sunlight entering the cave on the day of the zenith is precisely vertical. The south side of the chimney slopes at an angle of 4o23′. Sunlight is exactly parallel to this side on June 21, the day of the Summer solstice.

7. Bernal, Querétaro

At the Spring Equinox, this town is invaded by visitors “dressed in long, white robes or gowns, and red neckerchiefs” who come seeking “wisdom, unity, energy and new beginnings”. (Loretta Scott Miller, in El Ojo del Lago, July 1997).

Since 1992, this Magic Town has held events each year from 19 to 21 March to celebrate the Spring Equinox. On 20 March, hundreds of people hike in the evening to the chapel of Santa Cruz, part-way up the Peña de Bernal, the giant monolith that overshadows the town, for hymns and prayers. They greet the sun as it rises on 21 March. Following a ceremony in the town square at noon (21 March), as many as 15,000 visitors form a human chain stretching from the plaza to the top of the monolith. Local attractions in Bernal include small museums about local history, masks and Mexico’s movie industry.

8. El Tajín, Veracruz

The amazing Pyramid of the Niches in El Tajín, Veracruz, is another great place to visit on the spring equinox. Crowds gather here to celebrate the equinox, despite the fact that in this location, there is no particular solar spectacle to observe. Today’s celebrations continue an age-old tradition at El Tajín, which has long been one of the most important ceremonial centers in this region.

9. Monte Alban, Oaxaca

Monte Alban, just outside the city of Oaxaca, was the first planned urban center in the Americas, and was occupied continually for more than 1300 years, between 500 BC and AD 850. Visitors from all over the world, many of them dressed in white, converge on Monte Alban at the spring equinox to recharge their energy levels.

Magical Mexico!

Mar 152017
 

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we offer this short list of references highlighting some of the more significant connections between Ireland and Mexico.

Séamus Ó Fógartaigh in his “Ireland and Mexico“, published in Irish Migration Studies in Latin America by the Society for Irish Latin American Studies (based, curiously, in Switzerland) looks at the early links between Ireland and Mexico, including suggestions that the travels of St. Brendan the Navigator may have inspired Christopher Columbus and that the famous “Plumed Serpent” of Mexican mythology may have originated from the deification of an Irish monk.

Much better known are the later links. During colonial times, several of the Spanish administrators sent to New Spain (now Mexico) were direct descents of Irish exiles to Spain. They include the 63rd and last Spanish Viceroy of New Spain Juan O’Donojú (formerly O’Donoghue) who arrived in the New World shortly before Mexico became Independent in 1821.

A generation later, Irish soldiers who chose to leave (deserted) the US army formed the backbone of Mexico’s St. Patrick’s Battalion (Batallón San Patricio) which fought the invading Americans in 1846-48. They are especially remembered for their bravery in the Battle of Churubusco (in Mexico City) in 1847. Their story is well remembered by Mexicans today, their exploits commemorated every year at a ceremony in Mexico City, and the basis of several books and the movie One Man’s Hero. The single, best account is that by Michael Hogan in The Irish Soldiers of Mexico. For a summary account, try “The St. Patricio Battalion, The Irish Soldiers of Mexico” by Jaime Fogarty, published in UNAM’s Voices of Mexico magazine, April-June, 2000.

San Patricio Melaque (Google Earth)

San Patricio Melaque (Google Earth)

On the Jalisco coast, the small town of San Patricio Melaque (around the bay from Barra de Navidad and the Isla de Navidad tourist development) holds an annual fiesta that celebrates both the town’s patron saint and the achievements of the Irish soldiers. Nine days of activity (church services, fireworks, parades, bullfights, fairground games) come to a climax on 17 March. (It is sometimes claimed that San Patricio Melaque is the only settlement named San Patricio in Mexico, but that is not quite true, since there are at least three others: two tiny hamlets called San Patricio, relatively close to Cd. Victoria in Tamaulipas, and one named San Patricio de la Mesa in the mountains east of Hermosillo in Sonora.)

In the twentieth century, Álvaro Obregón (family name O’Brien) was President of Mexico from 1920 to 1924. (We will take a critical look at his relationship with the indigenous Yaqui Indians of Sonora in a later post). The city of Ciudad Obregón in Sonora is named in his honor. Artists of Irish descent also impacted Mexico’s national life. They included architect, painter and muralist Juan O’Gorman (1905-1982), responsible for the monumental mosaic that adorns the walls of the National University (UNAM) Library in Mexico City, and a striking, colorful mural in Pátzcuaro that depicts an erupting volcano; this mural was completed just one year before the unexpected eruption nearby of Paricutín Volcano.

Today, according to Wikipedia, there are between 300,000 and 600,000 people of Irish descent living in Mexico, mostly in either northern Mexico or Mexico City.

Dr. Michael Hogan has done far more than most to publicize the links between Ireland and Mexico. In this 8 minute Youtube video clip, he talks to an Irish radio show host about the San Patricios, Irish and Mexican history, music and tequila.

Most of the links we’ve described might never have happened if Mexico had not sent an unwanted export to Ireland in the middle of the nineteenth century. The census of 1841 in Ireland recorded a population of about 8 million. The staple Irish food at that time was the humble potato and Ireland’s rapid population growth during the early part of the nineteenth century was based on the so-called “potato economy”.  Ireland was bursting at the seams in 1841, but just a decade later, after the potato famine, the population had fallen to 6.5 million. The cause of the Irish potato famine was a water mold (Phytophthora infestans) that originated in Mexico and crossed the Atlantic in the 1840s, reaching Europe in 1845 before rapidly spreading across the continent to reach Ireland.

If a Mexican water mold had not provoked the Irish potato famine, maybe there would have been no settlements named San Patricio in Mexico today, and no cause to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Mexico! Wherever you may be, have a very Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Related links:

Mar 092017
 

In a previous post — The re-opening of the giant El Boleo copper mine in Santa Rosalía, Baja California Sur —  we looked at the repeated boom-bust-boom history of the copper mining center of Santa Rosalía on the Baja California Peninsula. The arid peninsula did not offer much in the way of local resources for the construction of a mining settlement. When mining took off, an entire town was needed, virtually overnight. Almost all the materials necessary for the construction and exploitation of the mines and for building the houses and public buildings had to be imported, primarily from the USA.

As the town grew at the end of the nineteenth century, a clear geographic (spatial) segregation developed, which is still noticeable even today:

  • Workers’ homes were built on the lowland near the foundry and port
  • Higher up the slope was the Mexican quarter where government workers and ancillary support staff lived
  • The highest section of town, overlooking everything, was the French quarter.

The contrasts of Santa Rosalía at this time were well summed by María Eugenia B. de Novelo:

“Santa Rosalía was a place of clashing contrasts and situations. It had a scarred backdrop of copper hills, a black-tinted shore, French silks, fine perfumes, crystal, Bordeaux wines and Duret cooking oil, sharing the scene with flour tortillas, giant lobsters, abalone and chimney dust.”

The French quarter has retained its distinctive architecture to the present day. At one end is the Hotel Francés, opened in 1886, which has an incredibly stylish period interior and still operates today.

Hotel Francés, Santa Rosalía

Hotel Francés, Santa Rosalía. Photo: Tony Burton

The gorgeous architecture of many of the homes of the French quarter is reminiscent of New Orleans. Beautiful wooden houses stand aloof on blocks with porches, balconies and verandas, competing for the best view over the town below. Wooden homes are decidedly unusual in this part of Mexico, which was never forested, and are, indeed, rare almost everywhere in the country. There are so many wooden homes here that Santa Rosalía has long had its own fire department, just in case!

At the other end of the French quarter are the former mining offices, now the Museo Boléo, an interesting museum where interior details are little changed from a century ago. Standing in the main hall, it is possible to imagine the hustle and bustle of former days, as clerks work feverishly to keep up with their superiors’ numerous demands. The mining company attracted workers from far afield. Three thousand Chinese workers arrived, settling the districts still known as La Chinita and Nuevo Pekin.

The most conspicuous landmark in the main part of town remains the former foundry, no longer open to the public. The next most conspicuous landmark is the church of Santa Bárbara. There are serious doubts as to who designed this unusual church, assembled out of pre-fabricated, stamped steel sheets or plates. Most guidebooks attribute the church to Gustave Eiffel, the famous French architect responsible for the Eiffel Town in Paris. According to this version, Eiffel’s design won a prize at the 1889 Universal Exposition of Paris, France, and was originally destined for somewhere in Africa. It was later discovered in Belgium by an official of the Boleo mining company, who purchased it and brought it back to Santa Rosalía in 1897.

The church of Santa Rosalía

The church of Santa Rosalía. Photo: Tony Burton.

The latter part of the story may be correct, but research by Angela Gardner strongly suggests that the original designer was probably not Eiffel but is far more likely to have been a Brazilian, Bibiano Duclos, who graduated from the same academy as Eiffel in Paris. Duclos took out a patent on pre-fabricated buildings, whereas there is no evidence that Eiffel ever designed a pre-fabricated building of any kind. Whoever designed it, it is certainly a unique design in the context of Mexico, and well worth seeing.

Other well-preserved buildings dating back to the heyday of the town’s success include the municipal palace or town hall (formerly a school designed by Gustave Eiffel), the Central Hotel, the DIF building, the Club Mutualista, the Post Office and the Mahatma Gandhi library, currently being restored. The library is in Parque Morelos, which is also the last resting place for a Baldwin locomotive dating back to 1886.

If walking around town looking at the architecture makes you hungry, try the French pastries (and Mexican sweet breads) from the Panadería El Boleo on the main street. With slight hyperbole, Panadería El Boleo boasts on its wall of being the World’s most famous bakery. Expect to queue, but enjoy the smells of fresh baked goods while you wait.

The distinctive history, architecture (and pastries) of Santa Rosalía, assuming they are conserved, should prove in the future to be an excellent basis for the development of cultural tourism to supplement the ecotourism and adventure tourism already in place.

Sources:

Want to read more?

Note : This post was first published 11 October 2011.

Feb 232017
 

There are almost fifty places where people can legally cross the Mexico–United States border, but only one where the cities on either side of the border have the same name: Nogales.

transnational-metropolitan-areas

The fascinating history of the two Nogales (Ambos Nogales), twin cities on either side of the border, is related in this detailed 2010 blog post by Robert Lucas: Ambos Nogales Face Across the Border.

The geographic curiosities of the border between Nogales (Sonora) and Nogales (Arizona) included, historically, a street that ran east-west along the border, with one half of the street in Mexico and the other half in the USA:

Postcard of Ambos Nogales, ca 1915

Postcard of Ambos Nogales, ca 1915

This postcard from about one hundred years ago shows International Avenue, Nogales. The boundary line on the postcard was added by the publisher to indicate that the border ran down the middle of the street. Even in the absence of any boundary fence, residents were apparently still required to cross at one of two entry points: either the Morley Avenue crossing (shown in the postcard) or the Grand Avenue crossing further to the west.

Prior to the building of the International Avenue, which created a clear separation between Mexico and the USA, there had been some interesting consequences of having a bi-national city straddling the international border. For example, after Arizona introduced prohibition, outlawing the production and sale of alcohol in that state, some publicans took advantage of the unusual geography of Nogales to build saloons that straddled the border. Patrons tired of sipping their tea who wanted to enjoy duty-free mescal could simply move to the south end of the bar…

In 1897, the U.S. Congress ordered that a 60-foot strip along the border in downtown Nogales be cleared of all structures as a measure to suppress customs fraud. Mexico soon followed suit, creating the International Avenue. The International Avenue did not look like the view in the postcard for for very long. By 1916, a temporary fence had been erected down the middle.

Two years later, on 27 August 1918, this area was the scene of the Battle of Ambos Nogales (La batalla del 27 de agosto), which led to a permanent fence being built, forever separating Ambos Nogales into two distinct cities.

Related posts:

Feb 122017
 

One of the more beautiful, unusual and useful map projections ever devised was created by cartographer Bernard Cahill. The butterfly projection was first published in the Scottish Geographical Magazine in 1909. Cahill (1866-1944) later applied for a US patent to protect his creation.


I first came across Cahill’s projection on a stamp issued in Mexico in 1964. The design of the stamp (see image) shows his world map, an octahedral whose eight faces have been flattened into a shape resembling a butterfly. Ever since then I have wondered why such an unusual map would be chosen for a Mexican stamp that commemorated the 10th Conference of the International Bar Association (IBA), held that year in Mexico City. Coming some 20 years after the cartographer’s death, it seems an unlikely choice. So far, all my efforts to find a link between Cahill, the IBA and Mexico have drawn a blank. (Note to readers: Help needed!)

Cahill’s butterfly map, like Buckminster Fuller’s later Dymaxion Maps (1943 and 1954) enabled all the continents to appear linked, and with reasonable fidelity to a globe. Cahill demonstrated this principle by also inventing a rubber ball globe which could be placed under a pane of glass and flattened into the “Butterfly” form. When removed, the map/globe reverted to its original shape.

The original Cahill projection (1909). Credit: Gene Keyes

The original Cahill projection (1909). Credit: Gene Keyes

Largely in honor of his cartographic innovation, Cahill was elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. In 1913 he started the Cahill World Map Company, but this company was not successful and his map has since been largely forgotten by most people.

But not by cartographer Gene Keyes! Except for Cahill himself, no follower of Cahill’s projection has ever been as dedicated as Gene Keyes, a former student of Buckminster Fuller. Keyes’ website is a mine of information about Cahill and his map projection, and is well worth reading.

Born in the UK, Bernard Joseph Stanislaus Cahill (18661944) was an architect, town planner and cartographer who moved to San Francisco, California, in 1888. He was an early proponent of the San Francisco Civic Center and designed that city’s Neptune Society Columbarium.

Cahill encountered some stiff obstacles in the many years it took him to develop his butterfly projection. For example, he lost all his initial drawings and papers in the disastrous San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906. At least one major publisher signed a contract to publish the butterfly map as a wall map and in an atlas, but then failed to follow through.

Cahill’s world map used for world tours

Soon after its creation, Cahill’s butterfly map was used to illustrate a flying trip around the world, or circumaviation, proposed for the Panama Pacific International Exposition held in San Francisco in 1915. The map was exhibited at this exposition and won a gold medal for cartography. Some time later, the map was used by both the State of California and the City of Charleston to illustrate shipping routes.

In 1924, the American Express Company chose the map for use during a world tour aboard the Cunard ocean liner Laconia. According to Keyes, the map was prominently displayed on the Palm Deck of the ship and seen by Robert Ripley, a participant on the world tour, who later featured it in his Believe it or Not series.

Perhaps the closest Cahill came to seeing his map in more general use came in 1937, when the International Meteorological Committee apparently came within a single vote of adopting a version of his projection for all world weather charting.

No wonder, then, that in Keyes’ words, “Cahill should be seen in company with other pioneers such as Charles Babbage or Gregor Mendel, who died long before their efforts gained wider appreciation. As well, he antedates Buckminster Fuller, prophet of Spaceship Earth.”

Keyes goes on to note that, “Cahill was not merely an astute architect and cartographer, but, that like Fuller, his map expressed an underlying whole-earth philosophy much like themes which emerged 60 years later. Cahill used the term “geosophy” in that regard….” (And used it as early as 1912, well before the geographer J.K. Wright, commonly credited for having coined the term in 1947).

Will Cahill’s map ever catch on? The latest sign of renewed interest in Cahill’s projection comes from its adaptation by the New York Times as the basis for a series of 10 maps published in December 2011 illustrating the changing world of computing, communications and technology.

Keyes closes his account of Cahill’s map by quoting Ambrose Bierce, who in a letter to Cahill, wrote that, “The Butterfly Map is indubitably the right one, but it will be a long time before it gets into general use….”

Sadly, that has proved to be all too true, despite its inclusion in the design of a Mexican postage stamp.

Related posts using Mexican stamps for illustration:

Jan 302017
 

Huatulco is best known as one of Mexico’s leading tourist resorts, one of several similar large-scale, purpose-built developments partially funded by federal funds.

In 1967, responding to bullish predictions of US demand for beach vacations, Mexico’s central bank identified the five best places for completely new, purpose-built tourist resorts. Top of the list, as part of a 30-year plan, was the uninhabited barrier island now known as Cancún (see The growth of Cancún, Mexico leading tourist resort). The other choice locations were Ixtapa, Los Cabos, Loreto and Huatulco. The National Fund for Tourism Infrastructure (renamed the National Tourism Development Fund, Fonatur, in 1974) began building Cancún in 1970 and Ixtapa in 1971.

Huatulco’s site on the coast of Oaxaca had been initially identified in 1969 but the area lacked adequate transportation infrastructure until the regional highways were improved in 1982. Legal land expropriations followed; by 1984 Fonatur controlled more than 21,000 hectares (50,000 acres). In 1985 Fonatur began construction of an airport and a service town, La Crucecita, a few kilometers back from the coast. In 1986 the villagers of the coastal community of Santa Cruz were resettled in La Crucecita. Most of Huatulco’s nine bays were linked by paved road by 1987 (see map).

Sketch map of Huatulco (not to scale)

Sketch map of Huatulco (not to scale)

Fonatur took a number of steps to help the original residents adapt to the massive changes taking place around them. It built schools, held public meetings, provided medical and police services, and offered job training programs. Most people gradually adapted; some are employed in Huatulco hotels and some started their own small businesses. By 1994 Huatulco had 1905 hotel rooms and attracted 170,000 tourists, 26% of them foreign. The average length of stay was 4.22 days.

Huatulco’s growth has not been as rapid as Cancún’s. By 2006, Huatulco had 2506 rooms and played host to 312,000 tourists (15% foreign). While Cancún first attracted Mexican tourists and then foreign tourists followed (and now dominate), in Huatulco the proportion of foreign tourists has fallen as the resort has developed. The master plan for Huatulco foresees 30,000 hotel rooms and a city with an eventual population of 600,000.

As for most of its other developments, Fonatur’s construction of La Crucecita established a clear spatial and visual divide between the tourist areas on the coast and the residential areas for tourism employees, in this case on the inland side of some low hills.

So far, so good, but critics of centrally-planned, “top-down” resorts like those built by Fonatur, and of Huatulco in particular, point to the tremendous strains placed on the local inhabitants and on the local environment. We look at some of these in more detail in Villages near Huatulco, Oaxaca: a case study in the “Integrated Administration of Natural Resources”

Related posts:

Jan 092017
 

Tapatíos (residents of Guadalajara) and Jaliscienses (residents of Jalisco) often brag that they live in the most “Mexican” area of the country. Are these boasts truthful? This is not an easy question to answer. It involves looking at a broad range of evidence.

Jalisco’s climate and natural ecosystems are very diverse like the country as a whole. It is the only state with all of the country’s five principal natural ecosystems (tropical evergreen forest, tropical deciduous and thorn forest, temperate forest, grassland and mesquite-grassland, and arid and semi-arid scrubland) [Geo-Mexico, page 31]. Furthermore, Jalisco has Lake Chapala, the country’s largest natural lake as well as the Colima Volcano, one of the most active in the country. Certainly from a physical geography perspective Jalisco appears the most representative of Mexico as a whole. (For other natural wonders of Jalisco see John Pint’s website: http://ranchopint.com).

Map of Jalisco state

Map of Jalisco. Copyright 2010 Tony Burton. All rights reserved.

Jalisco’s socio-economic characteristics are also representative of Mexico. Its population has an average growth rate and is distributed among a very large city, secondary and smaller cities, extensive farming communities and isolated indigenous areas. While its adjusted per person income is just below the national average, its human development index (composed of infant mortality rate, adult literacy, school enrollment ratio, and adjusted average personal income) is slightly above. Jalisco is similar to Mexico regarding the main economic sectors of agriculture, industry and services, including tourism.

From a tourism perspective, Jalisco includes everything Mexico has to offer: fantastic beach resorts, urban cultural and artistic attractions, natural wonders, significant indigenous areas and impressive archeological sites. On the other hand, Jalisco is not representative in that it is the leading agricultural state (first in production of corn, beef, pork, poultry, milk and eggs). It is also more predominantly Catholic and politically more conservative than Mexico as a whole. Aside from these two exceptions, Jalisco is quite representative from a socio-economic perspective.

Perhaps cultural aspects are the most important in determining the most “Mexican” of the 32 states. Here Jalisco really stands out. It is the birthplace of such stereotypical Mexican cultural characteristics as charrería (Mexican horsemanship), jarabe tapatío (Mexican hat dance), mariachi music, and tequila, the national drink.

In conclusion, the available evidence appears to support the boasts of some Tapatíos and Jaliscienses that they live in the “most Mexican” area of the country.

Many aspects of Mexico’s culture feature in Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico, a handy reference guide to all aspects of Mexico’s geography. If you have enjoyed this post, consider gifting a copy of Geo-Mexico to someone you know.

 Posted by at 9:31 am  Tagged with:
Jan 022017
 

Unlike in the USA and Canada, where gifts are exchanged on Christmas Day (25 December), the original tradition in Mexico over the Christmas season was to exchange presents on Three Kings Day (Día de los Reyes, 6 January). In the Christian calendar, 6 January marks the Feast of the Epiphany, the day when the magi arrived in Bethlehem with their gifts for the infant Jesus. In homage to this occasion, Mexican children would dutifully stuff the largest shoes (or box) they could find with straw, and leave them outside their bedroom door on the night of January 5, in anticipation of finding new toys the following morning.

In the 20th century the Three Kings Day tradition in some regions of Mexico broke down in the face of the enormous consumer-oriented publicity from north of the border, which stressed Christmas (rather than Epiphany) gifts. Naturally, however, some greedy Mexican middle- and upper-class children expect to receive gifts on both days, claiming that parents and grandparents should not only preserve the old customs but also embrace the new version! Equally, children with parents who are separated or divorced also often receive gifts on both 25 December and 6 January, with each parent taking responsibility for one of the two festive days.

Rosca de Reyes

A typical family-sized Rosca de Reyes

Even where it is no longer a day to exchange gifts, 6 January is still very much a family day throughout Mexico. In the late afternoon or early evening, it is traditional for the whole family to share a rosca. Roscas are ring-shaped loaves of sweet bread, sold to be eaten on special occasions. The roscas for Three Kings Day each contain a small plastic (formerly ceramic) muñeco (doll). These muñecos were originally ceramic, but are now more usually plastic. The recipient of the piece of rosca containing the muñeco has to throw a party on 2 February (Candlemas day, Día de la Candelaria) for all those present at the sharing of the rosca. It is customary to provide tamales to feed everyone gathering on Candlemas day. In some parts of southern Mexico,  guests expect to be served home-made mole, a sauce which contains dozens of ingredients including nuts, chocolate and numerous spices, and which requires many hours of arduous preparation.

In 2011, Mexico City residents were treated to an early Three Kings Day present. On Sunday 2 January, the main central square in Mexico City filled with people pushing through the crowds to receive their free portion of the world’s largest ever rosca – a staggering 720 meters long, 90 cm wide and weighing 9,375 kilograms. More than 300,000 people eventually collected a piece to take home for their families to enjoy sometime on Three Kings’ Day.

And if you think making mole is arduous, then just imagine how much work was required to make this enormous rosca! The finished bread was made from 6,000 kg of flour, 3,000 kg of butter, 38,000 eggs, 1,000 kg of fruit, 1,000 liters of milk, and 220 kg of sugar; its preparation took 16,000 man-hours. Given the rising levels of obesity in Mexico, it is to be hoped that the recipe used was for a “reduced calorie” rosca

Credits: Thanks to Fatimah Araneta for suggesting valuable modifications to the original article, and to Cristina Potters for emphasizing that gift-giving on Three Kings Day is still very much alive and well in much of central and southern Mexico. Cristina Potters’ blog Mexico Cooks! has a comprehensive account of the significance of the cuisine associated with Three Kings Day and Candlemas Day.

Many aspects of Mexico’s culture feature in Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico, a handy reference guide to all aspects of Mexico’s geography. If you have enjoyed this post, please consider gifting a copy of Geo-Mexico to a friend.

 Posted by at 6:41 am  Tagged with:
Dec 222016
 

Some parts of Mexico have been working on Christmas for most of the year… For example, the manufacturing of beautiful handmade Christmas tree decorations is the main industry today in the former gold and silver mining town of Tlalpujahua in the state of Michoacán. The production of Christmas ornaments in Tlapujahua has a great series of photos by Arturo Toraya of Notimex, showing some of the steps involved.

ornaments-2

As the accompanying text explains, “Making baubles for Christmas trees is the main source of jobs in the town, which is now one of the top five producers in the world. Due to their quality, 90 percent of the total production is exported to the U.S. and Canada. There are 200 family workshops in the town with seven-hour shifts, and each worker can make up to 550 baubles per day. Each workshop decorates about 500 per day. Red, blue, green and yellow are the top selling colors in Mexico, while black, brown and grey are more popular in the U.S.”

The village of Tzintzuntzan, on the shores of Lake Pátzcuaro, also in Michoacán, is another settlement where Christmas seems to be a year-round source of inspiration. The village handicraft market is a cornucopia of straw work in every conceivable color, design and size, which make ideal Christmas decorations or gifts.

Happy Christmas from Geo-Mexico! – ¡Feliz Navidad!

Craft market in Tzintzuntzan, Michoacan

Craft market in Tzintzuntzan, Michoacan

Related posts:

Dec 172016
 

Most of Mexico is above 1000 m (about 3300 ft) in elevation; as a result most of Mexico has a more temperate climate than might be expected given its latitude.

The famous explorer Alexander von Humboldt, one of the founding fathers of physical geography and meteorology, was the first to describe the vertical differentiation of climatic and vegetation zones in Mexico. Writing in 1811, he proposed the terms tierra caliente, tierra templada, and tierra fría, still widely used by non-specialists today.

Tierra caliente (hot land) includes all areas under about 900 m (3000 ft). These areas generally have a mean annual temperature above 25°C (77°F). Their natural vegetation is usually either tropical evergreen or tropical deciduous forest. Farms produce tropical crops such as sugar-cane, cacao and bananas.

Altitude zones

Altitude zones. Copyright John Wiley & Sons Inc. 2000.

Tierra templada (temperate land) is the area between 900 and 1800 m (3000 to 6000 ft) where mean annual temperatures are usually between about 18°C and 25°C (64°F to 77°F). The natural vegetation in these zones is temperate forest, such as oak and pine-oak forest. Farms grow crops such as corn (maize), beans, squash, wheat and coffee.

Tierra fria (cold land) is over 1800 m (6000 ft) where mean annual temperatures are in the range 13°–18°C (55°–64°F). At these altitudes pine and pine-fir forests are common. Farm crops include barley and potatoes. On the highest mountain tops, above the tierra fría is tierra helada, frosty land.

Even higher, and almost permanently under snow and ice, is the tierra nevada, snow-covered land.