The Fiestas of San Miguel!

Part I: When Our Entire Community Takes
to the Streets in Dance & Celebration

Every September, thousands flock to San Miguel de Allende for the "Grito"the proclamation of Independencedelivered on the eve of September 16.  And in years past, thousands returned to San Miguel the following weekend in September to run with the bulls (which has been suspended during the current Mayor's term).  But for everyone living in San Miguel, the final weekend is the most anticipated and special of all. At last!  It's time to celebrate the Fiestas of San Miguel!

For us, the extended weekend of non-stop events begins with the violin concert on Thursday evening (September 27th this year).  The entire town gathers in the Jardín to sway to the soaring violins of Los Hermanos Aguascalientes.  From "Bese Me Mucho" to "New York, New York", music enveloped us as we stood before our glorious church: La Parroquia.  Los Hermanos Aguascalientes emotionally announced that this was their 30th consecutive year to begin the Fiestas of San Miguel, and "God willing" they would play for another 30.  After hearing their dramatic rendition of "My Way", we believe they will.

A view of San Miguel's La Parroquia
towering over the Jardín.

Although a myriad of civic events occurs on Friday, it's a good idea to take it easy in anticipation of what comes next.  Half of San Miguel sets their alarm clock for 2:30am so they can return to the Jardín by 3:30am.  And the other half?  They stay up all night!

Pre-dawn, thousands stream into the town center to witness the epic battle between the arcangel San Miguel and the devil
played out with thunderous fireworksknown as La Aborada.  First, the lights of La Parroquia are dimmed.  Then the fireworks begin promptly at 4am.  To the complete shock of first-timers, the fireworks are shot into the center of the Jardín where brazen youth hover under serapes, dodging the onslaught of fiery rockets.  This year, one and a half tons of gunpowder were escorted into San Miguel de Allende expressly for the Aborada battle.  From toddlers to great grand-parents, the town delights in the firefight lasting a full hour ending with a whizzing, whirling castillo.  With bombs still echoing in our ears, we headed off for a hearty breakfast and a half-hearted attempt at a nap.  With everyone giddy from the early morning triumph over the devil, San Miguel was now primed to partake in the fiestas "con gusto".

A whirring castillo was the final act in the war of fire between San Miguel
and the devil, played out pre-dawn.

There's no rest during the fiestas!  After napping through Saturday morning, it was time to head back to the center of town for the grand parade (the first of two) when the "xuchiles" are carried to the Parroquia amidst dancers from every corner of Mexico.  A xuchil is a type of cactus, and also the name of the gigantic decorations on 20 plus-foot poles using the cactus as ornamentation.  Despite the rains, our town's enthusiasm could not be doused.  The parade splashed into the Jardín cheered on by our raucous shouts.

Conchero dancers honoring the regions's Chichimeca heritage,
proceeded past the brimming sidewalks filled with on-lookers.

Giant mojiganga dancers joined the lively parade.

The towering xuchiles are carried into the Jardín.  The tributes are a lingering
aspect of pre-Hispanic traditions glorifying nature and the harvest.




In addition to hundreds of local Conchero dancers, colorful regional dancers
from every corner of Mexico participate in the dazzling parade.

From our rooftop perch high above Canal Street, we enjoyed a bird's eye view (plus a respite from the rain) as each group and xuchil after xuchil paraded into the Jardín.  And just as we thought the parade was waning, the dance troupes put on an encore performance and doubled back dancing all the way down Canal Street!  Marvelous!

After our merry party enjoyed a few margaritas, we then descended into the streets to explore the Jardín.  Almost immediately we came upon a troupe from Estado de Mexico wearing costumes so completely embroidered with gold and sequins that they rivaled a matador's traje de luz (suit of lights).  The sight was dazzling.

As dusk descended, a group from Estado de Mexico
performed in the Jardín.  Despite just having danced their way into town, their energy was matched
by the brilliance of their costumes as they
continued into the night.

But the evening was far from over.  We next made our way into the courtyard of the Parroquia to admire the xuchiles.  Once inside, an air of quiet reverence surrounded us in stark contrast to the gaiety of the plaza.  Along side fellow villagers we gazed upon the giant xuchiles resting against the church in awe.  The towering nature tributes stand like silent sentries before the Parroquia for the next several days.

Above, three views of xuchiles both upright and resting.  In the
center photo, the back of a xuchil arches over the entrance of the Parroquia church.  On the pole to the right, Voladores (flying dancers from Papantla, Veracruz) prepare their descent to earth. 
The xuchiles are not unlike tall, narrow signs depicting pictures and symbols completely fashioned from fruit, flowers, leaves and xuchil
cactus root-bulbs for which the completed creations are
named. The xuchil roots resemble pearl-like shells, and have
been used as decoration since pre-Hispanic times.

Filled with the experiences of the day, we crossed the Jardín with friends searching for a table with a view.  We shared drinks and good food, all feeling very fortunate to call San Miguel home.  Everyone had their favorite parts of the day to recount, and we were overwhelmed with a true appreciation for San Miguel's very Mexican spirit.  As we asked for the check, yet another round of castillos crackled in the Jardín.  Like children, we rushed into the crowds not wanting to miss the last blast of the day.

As we finally headed home, we couldn't help but reflect on this day that began at 3:30am.  How do you explain jumping out of bed to see fireworks at 4am?  When did you last enjoy breakfast with good friends at an hour so early that the sun had not risen?  When did you last watch a parade in the rain, and loved every moment?  And have you ever enjoyed towers of whirring fireworks (twice!) after going almost non-stop for 20 plus hours?

Loco?  Definitely.  And that's why we love the traditions of San Miguel de Allende.  Even fellow Mexicans must admit.  No place does it better in all of Mexico.

But tomorrow is another day.
Rick and Deb, soaked but thrilled.  The Fiestas of San Miguel, 2007.  Photo by Betsy McNair.

Written October 12, 2007.
By Debra Hall
ZOCALO Fine Folk Art
San Miguel de Allende, MEXICO
Pátzcuaro, MEXICO

All photos by Deb Hall unless otherwise identified.

Last thoughts...
Look forward to "Part II: The Fiestas of San Miguel" in an upcoming installment of Postcards from Mexico.

The Fiestas of San Miguel is a moveable holiday occurring on the last weekend of September or the first weekend of October every year.

Our rooftop viewing-perch for Saturday's spectacular parade was courtesy of the one and only Betsy McNair.  Betsy organized a most-personalized experience (the word "tour" is too generic for what Betsy does!) embracing the traditions of The Fiestas of San Miguel from beginning to end in 2007, and plans to return in 2008. See
All rights reserved by Deb Hall, 2007.  No part may be used or reproduced without written permission from Deb Hall.