Unooo, dozzz, trezzz, cuatrooo....
I was walking down a pedestrian-only street toward Mèrida's Mercado Lucas Galvez this morning to make a couple of last-minute purchases when I stopped to listen to this Salvation Army children's chorus. I wasn't terribly interested in diving into the crowds of last-minute shoppers, but this little break and the energy of the music gave me the fortitude to move ahead and get my errands finished. Along the way, I was able to stop for a minute to admire the many varieties of piñatas available this time of year for holiday parties.
I have participated in traditional, Mexican Christmases in the past and I had figured on blogging about that over the holidays. Most people here celebrate Christmas on December 24, La Noche Buena, and the day consists of being together with family, for faithful Catholics attending a late night mass or having a religious observance at home or with neighbors, and preparing and eating a meal together. Christmas trees, piles of presents, and Santa Claus are not such a big deal around here. This year after all I am not attending a family celebration, but there are many other things that make Christmas in Yucatàn unique for me.
Poinsettias, or Nochebuenas, are native to Mexico and although not indigenous to Yucatàn, large, tree-sized specimens can be seen growing in gardens along the roadside here. At least six color varieties have been commercialized and sold all over Mexico and exported. Yesterday on a drive in the country I saw this display, which included Nochebuenas, at a humble roadside shrine. These altars are common sites along roads. Friends or relatives of persons who passed away in highway accidents mark the location where the person's soul left his or her body by making a small altar on the spot. Someone also had planted two small plumeria trees, known in Mexico as flor de mayo. It is probable that these plants were favorites of the deceased or came from his/her garden.
Noche Buena beer is a Christmas season tradition in Mexico. This delicious amber beer is only available for a few weeks around the holidays. It reminds me a lot of Alaskan Amber, brewed in my hometown of Juneau. I have been nursing a twelve-pack for about a week now. I probably will buy another and hold onto it for awhile, to be able to savor this special seasonal brew into the new year.
Another holiday special that keeps giving in the new year: I have tomatoes ripening in my garden. Northerners are not accustomed to this. I expect to begin eating this new crop of tomatoes in the early weeks of 2010; it's a New Year's blessing available only to those living in the tropics.
Last Monday I went to a Christmas music concert at Mèrida's Cathedral of San Ildefonso, the oldest cathedral in Latin America. The cathedral was built in the early 1500's with stones taken by the Spaniards from the Mayan pyramid that stood on a site, just across the street, which afterward became Mèrida's zocalo, or main square. The concert was played on the cathedral's recently-restored organ, and sung by the children's and adult choirs of the cathedral. It is amazing to consider that nearly 500 Christmases have been celebrated in this building. The sound of the huge organ fills the cavernous space with vibrations. It's like being inside an enormous speaker. The human voices, though small, are clearly and sweetly audible over the organ's power.
Speaking of music, the last stop on my excursion yesterday was Izamal, about an hour's drive from Mèrida, where I ate a delicious roast-chicken lunch and visited the local pyramids. Izamal is one of Mexico's "Magic Pueblos," due to its superb colonial architecture, vast old convent and church, and ancient Mayan sites, including two pyramids right in town. The larger one, according to my calculations, covers a little over nine acres. Information I found online indicates that the Great Pyramid in Egypt covers about 13 acres. That makes this little-known pyramid in Izamal pretty darned huge. It is possible to see a great distance and spot many far-flung pueblos and haciendas from its peak. I climbed to the top to enjoy the view, and as I rested there, slightly out of breath, heard faint singing. Moments later the wind must have shifted, because suddenly the music became much clearer. It was then I could identify a child singing "Silent Night." The tender, fluting voice rose to my ears from somewhere in the pueblo far below as I sat almost alone high atop this fantastic work of ancient Mayan engineering, "Noche de paz, noche de amor..." What a wonderful Christmas gift, among many.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year