During a couple of decades of visits to San Miguel de Allende, my husband and I have witnessed so many festivals and parades, from the flower-hatted Catrina skeletons who stalk the streets on Day of the Dead in November to the neighborhood posadas during the Christmas holidays.
The Spanish colonial-era, UNESCO World Heritage city of San Miguel de Allende (SMA), in the mountains a few hours northeast of Mexico City, is known for spectacular, multi-day festivals that take place in September and early October, when long weekends are full of fireworks, parades, mounted riders, costumed children, Indian dancers, patriotic tableaus, religious ceremonies, horseback processions, music and fireworks at all hours--no kidding, it's a good thing that we're no longer buying film for our cameras or we'd be in serious debt.
El Grito and Independence Day
As SMA is one of the birthplaces of Mexican independence, the El Grito de la Independencia commemoration in September is a very big deal here. SMA residents Ignacio Allende and Juan Aldama, and others, kick-started the 1810 revolt against the Spanish that ultimately resulted in booting out the overlords. Elaborate banners with images of the conspirators arch over the main streets of SMA and a parade and other events occur around the Ignacio Allende House museum, the central plaza (el jardin) and the cathedral.September 16 is Mexican Independence Day, a national holiday, which is celebrated throughout the country and over three days in SMA with pyrotechnics from dark through the early hours of the mornings, and by military parades and ceremonies, band concerts and thousands of locals and visitors dancing in the streets, waving flags and even wearing them.
Fiestas de San Miguel de Allende
My all-time fav events are the "Fiestas de
San Miguel de Allende" in honor of the Arcangel St.
vanquished the devil when he dared to defy God. Days in advance of the
saint's feast day, September 29, Indian dance troupes begin streaming into
town from around the country, carrying stupendous, hand-made,
indigenous costumes, and sleeping mats and personal gear; the town feeds them and puts them up in the schoolhouses. At midnight before the feast day, they begin their slow alborada (dawn) procession, dancing and drumming all the way, heading up the streets to el jardin and the iconic, soaring, pink- and coral-hued neo-Gothic cathedral, El Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel.
During the night, the hundreds of dancers in their befeathered headdresses, masks, and painted bodies, and people carrying estrellas (stars), arrive at the cathedral, whereupon a mighty explosion of castillo fireworks and rockets is set off, and St. Michael gets his Las Mañanitas happy birthday song; as dawn rises, the dancers and the crowds wander off for a few hours, until they mass again for the main event--a procession through town, back to the cathedral.
Based on ancient legends and traditions, the dance
troupes represent tribes of semi-nomadic
Chichimecas who inhabited the area long before the Spanish conquest. One of their centuries-old traditions is to construct elaborate xuchiles ––huge wooden structures decorated with reeds and cucharilla cactus fiber, corn paste, marigolds and other flowers. Interspersed with the dance troupes, the xuchiles are carried from the outskirts of town to el jardin, where they are hoisted upright and fastened to the fence in front of the cathedral.
Outfitted, ironically, in Spanish-style armor, helmets and swords, images of St. Michael are portrayed on floats in the parade by young girls who are accompanied by gangs of sweet angels in pastel clouds. Adding a carnival atmosphere, 10-foot-tall mojigangas––papier mâché puppets that are created here––totter along between with the dancers.A special mass is held for St. Michael, and the famous "Voladores of Papantal" fly, head first, from the top of a dizzying 30 meter-tall pole. Firecrackers, bottle rockets and more whirling, smoking, popping fireworks blow off from time to time, and the amazing Indian dancers, who continue their rhythmic gyrations around and around el jardin, are by this time in an emotional frenzy. And, so are we spectators!
For visitors, one of the most enjoyable aspects of these cultural spectacles is sharing the sidewalks and the park benches with the families who have come in from outlying ranches and villages. We're all in awe of the color, the sound and the spirit of fiesta in San Miguel.
Day of the Dead––now, that's another story.
Book a Walking Tour of San Miguel de Allende
One of the most popular tour companies, Helene Kahn Tours, offers small group walking and shopping tours around town, and takes guests by Jeep Cherokee and Suburbans to Guanajuato, Pozos, Dolores Hidalgo and surrounding towns and village.
For a general intro to the historic district of SMA, for which you do not need to reserve in advance, you can just show up for the daily Patronato Pro Ninos walking tours conducted by experienced English-speaking local guides; proceeds go to the Children's Health Program.
Karen Misuraca is the author of several guidebooks, including Backroads of the California Wine Country; Backroads of the California Coast, and Fun with the Family Northern California. Check out Karen's new iPhone app, California Coast North.