It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas will be unrecognizable this year here in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Yes, twinkly lights have been strung up along some streets in centro, as in the past. But the traditional religious pageantry and the festive social gatherings normally associated with this Christmas season in this beautiful old colonial city in this devoutly Catholic country have become verboten.
As I understand the rough (Google) English translation of the document in Spanish recently published by the City Council, due to the rise in COVID-19 cases [as of December 11, according to San Miguel FAQ (www.smafaq.com), there were 1,239 confirmed cases and 69 deaths here in San Miguel], strict measures have been put in place to prevent the spread of the virus and the deaths from it.
First among those measures listed on my translation is: “The holding of public or private inns is prohibited in the Municipality.” I think it’s a fair guess that “inns” here refers to “Posadas,” the popular celebration in Mexico and Central America between December 16 and Christmas Day to commemorate the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem.
According to my research, Posadas consist of a procession of models of religious figures that people carry on their shoulders, asking for shelter as they go by. Generally, one family takes charge of organizing the models, and offers its house as the last of nine posadas. Other groups form, one of which goes from house to house with the figures, asking for shelter; but it is turned away at each house. At the last house, the figures are taken in and put on an altar. The celebrations continue with food and drink, singing and dancing and end with a piñata.
But not this year.
Second on the City Council’s list: “All religious events or festivals of any kind are prohibited until further notice.” Third: Private parties or meetings pose risks to public health, too, and those who refuse to comply with the requirements and provisions of the health authority face “arrest for up to 36 hours.” And the list goes on.
So it seems to me, “out of an abundance of caution” — as they say, and who can blame them? – Christmas, at least Christmas festivities, have been cancelled this year.
If my Spanish-language skills were more serviceable, I’d love to put on my journalist’s hat and do person-on-the-street interviews with locals, asking them – the shopkeeper in the empty shop, the construction worker on his lunch break, the woman selling flowers on the corner, the young mom with two children in tow, the old man waiting for a bus – what they think of these new strictures.
Would they be willing to comply? My guess is their answer would be yes.
In my experience, after living in San Miguel for five years now, walking miles each day, and striving to observe everything around me, I’d say that Mexican people can teach us gringos much about patience and tolerance.
As I’ve noted here before, Mexicans seem to take the long view of life; they don’t buck the tide, as we Norte Americanos tend to try to do. Yes, too many Mexican families are hurting due to this pandemic (and many nongovernmental charitable organizations generously supported by us gringo-“guests” are helping), but these Mexicans don’t seem to complain.
Their attitude appears to be: This coronavirus will pass, this non-Christmas will one day become a distant memory. In the meantime, all of us must pull together and comply with the rules, for the greater good.
Contrast this with the prevailing American attitude, so well summed up by my favorite New York Times Opinion writer Frank Bruni in his weekly newsletter of December 9:
“… We Americans aren’t always responsible or reasonable. We struggle to accord the common good as much weight as our personal wants and to understand that it’s often aligned with, not against, our self-interest. And we’re bad at the long view. This pandemic hasn’t revealed that. It has just shown us the steep, steep price.”
So I’d like to wish a Merry Christmas to all my Christian friends, however quietly and privately you choose to acknowledge it. And Happy Hanukkah to all my Jewish friends. In fact, whatever holiday you celebrate this season, I hope it’s happy, creative, safe, low-key, and sweet.
Here are photos of the sweet pecan tart I made for my downstairs neighbors for Hanukkah this week – before and after they tucked into it:
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Huge thank-you’s to all who Zoomed into my Zoom reading last Sunday. It was a lot of fun! For those who missed it, you might like to watch the unedited recording of it, skipping over the initial Zoom bumps in the first ten-or-so minutes. Note that the passcode follows the link here: https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/hcR_KwUV0tbabVygjLBymeE8i9IT2p2amrwDbqmz6aCwD6WxXuVWkrdd4oXFsTXh.0XfNW3qfuW_moGsO Passcode: 0AWCbpK!