Light, Color, and Tradition in the San Miguel Fiesta
By Antonio De Jesús Aguado
During the festivity to honor Saint Michael the Archangel, fireworks light the sky while the main streets are taken over by the colorful local and foreign dancers that gather yearly to present their praises, rituals, and dances before the patron saint.
Although September 29 is the official date of the saint’s day, the Alborada—the festival that brings sanmiguelenses together for an amazing morning full of tradition, light, dance, and faith—starts early on the following Saturday, this year on October 4. The procession forms at 3am and winds its way to the Jardín, where at 4am the celebration really heats up.
This celebration gathers hundreds of sanmiguelenses from town and country to sing the “Mañanitas” (happy birthday song) to their beloved patron saint. For the duration of the weekend, the Parroquia, adorned with xúchiles, enormous floral offerings, is the stage for danzantes (dancers in pre-Hispanic dress) and traditional dance groups from around the republic who come to perform for Saint Michael the Archangel.
The stars of the Alborada
Alborada means daybreak, but in San Miguel the meaning is a spectacle of light and color as a way to pay tribute to the archangel. It has been said that the tradition was brought to town by manufacturers who came to work from Salvatierra, Gto, to the former Fábrica la Aurora (La Aurora Factory). In their city the workers used to worship Our Lady of La Luz, and when they arrived in San Miguel, they replaced her with Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, and the first alborada was held on December 8, 1924. The next year, by invitation of the parish priest, the alborada was to honor St. Michael. According to traditionalist Emigdio Ledesma, Camilo González was the first organizer of this event.
The alborada consists of three processions that leave at 3am from La Estación, La Aurora, and Valle del Maiz, to meet at 3:45am at the corner of Plaza Principal, Hidalgo, and Canal. From there the processions gather and walk around the Jardin three times. After that, at 4am there is one hour of fireworks. The three processions feature live music, mojigangas, dancers, skyrockets, and huge stars made of wood and adorned with colorful papers, which hold a candle in their centers. The stars—as they are called—include suns, moons, crosses, comets, and giant structures called Siete Cabrillas (these are the biggest stars with seven spikes, and in each spike there is a smaller star). Emigdio Ledesma is in charge of making the stars for the La Aurora neighborhood.
The Entrance of the Xúchiles
The entrance of the xúchiles consists of a procession made up of ánimas—small crosses that represent the souls of those Catholics who were captains of dances and have passed away—xúchiles, dancers, and allegoric cars. Every Saturday during the festivity of the archangel, the captains of dances hold their rituals, on Calzada de la Estación ask for forgiveness from each other, and forget about offenses or any other problems they have caused each other. This act is, according to traditionalist Alejandro Luna, a memorial to the four captains of conquest, evangelized Chichimecas who died during the evangelization process.
When the ritual ends, the procession begins, headed by the holy cross from Calderón and followed by the dance of Mónico Ramírez from Las Cuevitas. The entrance of the Xúchiles continues with the xúchil, dancers, and ánimas from Ejido de Tirado. This year, 93 places in the entrance of the xúchiles are occupied by the dancers, xúchiles, cars, and other groups. The event closes with the mojigangas.
The Origin of the Xúchiles
The origin of the entrance of the xúchiles—giant floral offerings—also called the encounter of calzada de la Estación, is uncertain because every traditionalist in the city has his own version. What is certain is that over the time the tradition has been transformed, including not just the local government´s support of an activity that originally was a duty of the church,
but also inclusion of the foreign dancers, the fliers from Papantla, fireworks, and popular singers from the Town Fair.
The festivity in honor of San Miguel, starts the third Sunday of August when a procession featuring dancers, mojigangas (giant puppets), locos (crazies), allegoric cars, and an ox takes place in the main streets of the city, making a stop at every church to hold a ritual in which permission is requested of the four winds to hold the “big celebration.” José Enrique Morales, better known as Chuchín, is a traditionalist with Chichimeca ancestors. He told Atención that his grandfather used to say that the ox was bought in advance by those in charge of the festivity to be fattened and sacrificed during the festivity for feeding the attendants. It is also said that the wealthiest men of the village of San Miguel el Grande used to donate the ox to the organizers. However, Morales says that this was not true because those who were rich in town did not give anything to anybody. “They were selfish and wanted to have more,” he commented.
Morales said in addition that in 1528, carrying a small Christ of Conquest—friars Pedro de Burgos and Francisco Doncel arrived in Sanmiguelense lands with the aim of evangelizing the native Chichimecas. “But the Chichimecas were wild and cannibals,” notes Morales, and they confronted the friars and their army. Traditionalist Eleazar Romero assures that the battle lasted fifteen days and nights until in the end, a cross appeared in the sky, and all those in the battle—Chichimecas and Catholics—knelt and said, “He is god.” Romero also commented that lightning engraved a cross in a rock, later placed in the area nearby known as Calderón. After the battle, the Chichimecas carried their dead in xúchiles.
Don José Centeno, who passed away last year, was is in charge of making an offering for Fray Juan de San Miguel and another for St. Michael the Archangel. He commented in previous interviews that his ancestors knew all about the origin of these offerings. “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 and crossbeams. The structures were decorated with flowers, and over them the corpse was placed in order to be carried to the grave. When the corpse was buried, the xúchil was placed over the grave as an offering.” Later, the marigolds and cucharillas were added to the offerings, which 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.
Check the route and the program for the festivity in Festival and Events in Qué Pasa
The dance of Papantla Flyers, said Rogelio Bautista Jimenez (from Papantla Veracruz), started more than 400 years ago in that city. When he arrived in San Miguel in 1983, he offered this kind of spectacle or ritual to the mayor, who accepted it; since then they have held the dance every year.
Their ritual, comments Bautista, starts on Saturday (during the festivity) around 12:30pm when they go to the church to ask for the patron saint’s protection. After that, they dance to three songs in the atrium of the church, a ritual that is followed by the blessing of the 27-meter-pole with mescal (or any kind of alcohol), and it is addressed to the four winds. When that is done, four fliers climb the pole and take their places while they wait for the caporal, the man who sits in the center on the top of the pole and plays the flute. After the third song, the fliers throw themselves into the air and rotate 52 times.