La Alborada: A party for our patron saint
By Jade Arroyo
La Alborada is one of the most beloved of the city’s festivities, when San Miguel honors its patron, Saint Michael the Archangel, with dances, music, rockets and faith. To experience the Alborada is to partake in a piece of the city’s glorious past and its immortal spirit, a celebration in which Catholic and pagan practices are inseparable. The presence of Señor San Miguel (as people use to call him respectfully) is felt strongly during these days, when hundreds of people congregate to sing “Las Mañantas” for him. Watching the pre-Hispanic dancers move to the drums’ rhythm is almost hypnotic, and in the early morning hours the sky seems to be embroidered with jewels by the fireworks.
The festivity begins simultaneously in the three oldest neighborhoods of San Miguel: Valle del Maíz, La Aurora and La Estación. The celebration starts on Friday, September 27, around 10pm, when people gather to enjoy food, music and other events. The peak of the celebration is in the early morning of Saturday 28, around 3am, when processions arrive in Centro and converge at the Jardín. The three processions featuring live music, mojigangas and giant stars meet up at the corner of calles Hidalgo and Canal before heading to the Parroquia, where the lighting of the fireworks begins, announcing the new day.
Origin of an imported tradition
Experts on San Miguel traditions, such as Félix Luna (in the book Fiesta y Tradición en San Miguel de Allende, Memoria de don Félix Luna), tell us that the Alborada was not originally conceived in San Miguel, even though it reached its zenith here. The custom was brought by workers from the old textile factory of La Aurora between 1925 and 1930. These people came from Salvatierra, moving to San Miguel after the closing of the Reforma factory, where they worshiped the Virgin of la Luz. Since then, the tradition was extended to different neighborhoods and became part of the identity of San Miguel. That is the origin of the large stars made out of paper by residents of Colonia Aurora, which represent Our Lady of Light. Teacher Gloria Navarrete, from the Department of Art and Culture and a keeper of the traditions herself, shared some of the history of the different aspects of the Alborada. As she put it, “A town without traditions is a town without a soul.”
The word xúchil comes from the Nahuatl xúchitl, which means “flower.” The xúchiles are large offerings made of marigolds and cucharilla, leaves from a local type of cactus. The xúchiles were something like a coffin for the ancient Chichimecas. Because they did not have enough money to buy coffins to bury their loved ones, they used to build structures that consisted of two parallel poles with crossbeams. The structures were decorated with flowers, and over them the corpse was placed in order to be carried to the grave. When the body was buried, the xúchil was placed over the grave as an offering. Later, the marigolds and cucharillas were added to the offerings. Nowadays, the structures are carried by 12 men and can weigh close to 500 kilos. When the entrance of the xúchiles ends, the offerings are placed outside la Parroquia. During the entrance of the xúchiles around 12 large xúchiles are brought to the church.
On Calzada de la Estación an ancient tradition known as “the encounter” is held. Several dancers from different neighborhoods and rural communities representing different tribes of Chichimecas who inhabited the village before the conquest meet up there. During this encounter, each tribe asks for forgiveness from the other tribes, for misunderstandings, mistreatment or other offenses. After they have forgiven one another, at 5pm the procession toward the Parroquia starts. The dancers follow behind the xúchiles. This year, around 41 local dance groups and 14 from other states such as Jalisco, Veracruz, Tlaxcala and México, among others, will take part in the xúchiles procession, along with seven floats.
Entrance of the souls
Although no one knows when the procession of xúchiles was held for the first time, it has undergone several changes over the years. This procession has a very deep meaning for the inhabitants of rural indigenous communities and is held in memory of the four captains of the conquest (who were the first to convert to Catholicism) and for all those who died during the process of evangelization in the village of San Miguel. Those victims are represented by the animas, the crosses carried at the head of the procession, which also honors all those native Chichimecas who died in a bloody battle at the Bridge of Calderón. The natives placed the corpses of the dead warriors on frames built of sticks and decorated with flowers, which could be the origin of the xúchiles.
The Alborada is the first festivity at which these giant puppets made an appearance, and now they seem to be part of every wedding and social event in town. The origins in Mexico of these smiling, grotesque giants made of papier-maché and cardboard dates from the conquest. The mojigangas were brought in order to evangelize. The first images were those of kings and queens, as well as images of saints. The mojigangas were used at the beginning to represent the power of the governors and saints, and much later to illustrate the defects of public servants and celebrities.
St. Michael’s stroll
With this stroll the festivities in honor of Saint Michael are officially ended (eight days after the party). For the procession the statue of Saint Michael is taken out of the Parroquia, from the highest part of the altar, and carried to the other main churches in the city. The religious image is one of the oldest in town, over 100 years old, and the saint wears armor made of sterling silver. This stroll is a way of ending the festivities with an the physical presence of the celebrated saint, whose image is carried into the streets to meet believers in person, bless them and let them see him up close for one time during the year. This stroll has taken place for 25 years, after having been revived by Félix Luna and other traditionalists. Check out the full list of activities in Que Pasa.