Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A wave of holidays

A series of holidays is quickly approaching.  In a little over two weeks we'll go through seven special days.  Even though we may not be participants in some of them we will be aware of them.  As you’ll see you’ll probably even be celebrated on one or more of these days.

April 30th is Children's Day.  Dia del Niño is a festive school day honoring children.  It's a big day for school field trips, especially to parks.  I wonder if children on field trips to Xochicalco will notice that April 30th is the first day this year that the sun will shine directly into the underground observatory at Xochicalco. 

May 1st is celebrated under various names as Labor Day in most countries and called the Día del Trabajo in Mexico.  The date commemorates workers movements demanding the eight-hour workday.  It is frequently mentioned as honoring the martyrs of Chicago, the protesters killed in the Haymarket Massacre though one of the few countries that does not commemorate the day is the one in which the events occurred.  Perhaps the only place where the U.S. observes May 1st as Labor Day is in its embassies and consulates -- one of nineteen holidays observed by U.S. diplomats in Mexico.

In Mexico the Labor Day march was the largest for most of the 20th century. It was presided over by the president and the leaders of the Central Labor Confederation (CTM), long led by Fidel Velazquez.  Towards the end of the century the official march was followed by marches by independent unions.  During the last three administrations the march has been toned down considerably.

May 3rd is Holy Cross Day.  Crosses on hilltops are brought to the parish churches for repairs, painting, and blessings before returning to the hilltop.  Crosses in churches and home altars are decorated with fresh flowers -- a big day for florists.  Also considered brickmason's day in Mexico, anyone with a construction project under way is expected to host dinner for the workers at the construction site.  Months after this day you will see flower-decorated crosses at construction sites indicating that construction was going on there on May 3rd.   Of the holidays in late April and early May, this is the noisiest -- announced by fireworks the night before. 

The Battle of Puebla (1862) is commemorated on May 5th.  Interestingly, with the exception of the State of Puebla, it is no longer even a banking holiday in Mexico. Yet a U.S. Congress Concurrent Resolution in 2005 called on the President to encourage the people to celebrate the day with appropriate ceremonies and activities. 

Although Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in the U.S. as a Hispanic culture day, it might more appropriately be recognized as the day that shaped U.S. history.

Many historians maintain that Napoleon III had the intention of supporting the Confederate States in the U.S. Civil War through a French-imposed Mexican emperor.  The French defeat at the Battle of Puebla set those plans back by almost exactly a year.  After regrouping and licking its wounds in Veracruz, the French army returned to Puebla in May 1863, secured the surrender of Mexico's Army of the East, and continued on to take control of Mexico City.  The Gettysburg Battle, the turning point in the U.S. Civil War, was fought July 1-3, 1863.  How would U.S. history have changed had the French entered Mexico City and imposed Maximilian as emperor in May1862?

Mothers' Day is celebrated on May 10th.  The most revered member of a Mexican family is feted as elegantly as each family can afford.  Stores of all kinds will be having Dia de las Madres sales.  

As the school year approaches completion, Teacher's Day is celebrated May 15th.  Public school teachers are federal employees in Mexico.  In fact the teachers union is the largest labor union in Latin America with over one million members.  Traditionally the president announces teachers' salary increases on May 15th.  If not considered sufficient, his announcement is frequently followed by teachers' strikes among dissident sections of the union just weeks before the end of the school year. 

Saint Isidore Labrador's Day is also celebrated on May 15.  As patron saint of farmers, he is frequently portrayed with a plow pulled by a team of oxen. This is particularly fitting for central Mexico's farmers who are plowing and getting their fields ready in anticipation of the rainy season which should be starting by late May.  

Last Tuesday on the slope of Popocatepetl between Amecameca and Tlamacas I stopped to talk with a farmer planting with a metal tipped planting stick.  Into each hole he tossed three corn seeds before covering it over with his foot.  He had previously plowed the fertile volcanic soil with a team of oxen.  He seemed oblivious to mass media coverage of Popocatepetl's increased activity and that access to Paso de Cortes between Popocatepetl and Ixtlaccihuatl had been closed. He was planting as usual.  I thanked him for the effort he puts into feeding us and he thanked me for buying the fruit of his harvest.  "We're all linked," he told me. 

So, if you are a worker, a mother, a child, a farmer, a teacher, a brickmason, or involved in a construction project, a celebration in your honor is around the corner.  ¡Felicidades!

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