A Mexican Christmas

Cozumel, Mexican Christmas; inside hosts home; Day of Dead Skeleton and home altar
Cozumel, Mexican Christmas; inside hosts home; Day of Dead Skeleton and home altar

Fri. Dec 13th   A Mexican Christmas & Cozumel, Mexico
Up at 7, coffee and breakfast in room. Out early to town of Cuzomel. This is a much bigger city than the previous stop. We walked around a bit, exploring the many shops, and I purchased a beautiful flowing bling bespeckled top and Joe got another T-shirt. He enjoyed haggling with the vendor to get a better price on his shirt. At another shop I found a wood painted statue of the Our Lady of Guadalupe. I love the Virgen de Guadalupe. And Joe got a small plaque of the Mayan calendar.   We had about 40 minutes before we had to meet to board our bus for the Mexican Christmas Excursion, and I did not want to carry around my purchases during the trip, so I decided to take them back to the boat. I also got Joe’s bag and said, “Wait here. Shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes.” I was wrong about that. I had to get past the guards, who forced me to go into a tent where I could be processed as I was leaving the country of Mexico. There was a short line. We each were sniffed by a drug dog as we put our bags and stuff on the conveyor to be X-rayed.  My travel bottle, which I had filled with ice before leaving, was opened and sniffed.  I thought they were going to pour my precious cold water out, but they didn’t. I suppose they wanted to make sure I was not smuggling alcohol out of Mexico. My knee brace set off the metal detector, so I had to remove it before proceeding through security. I was eventually released and I hurried the whole length of the pier, up the gang plank, elevator to 12th deck and then to our room where I left the two bags.  Back the same way, through security again.  I would not have made the effort if I knew it would be such a hassle.  The whole trip took over 30 minutes. I could feel my phone vibrating as I hurried along toward our meeting place. (We now had texting available on shore in Mexico, thanks to Joe replying “Yes” to a prompt he received on his phone regarding international service.) When I got back everyone was waiting for me. I explained about the security delays I had encountered on my foray to the boat and back as we headed toward our bus to do the Mexican Christmas.

Twin Royal Caribbean cruise ships, Harmony of the Seas and Liberty of the Seas, docked in Cozumel, Mexico
Twin Royal Caribbean cruise ships, Harmony of the Seas and Liberty of the Seas, docked in Cozumel, Mexico

           We were all booked for this next excursions, a Tradtional Mexican Christmas. We boarded the bus, and our guide introduced herself. Her name was Rosanna. She was tall and thin, with long brown hair, pulled back. She had on a colorful blouse and skirt, which she explained was in the traditional style of this area of Mexico.  She told us that she was from Slovenia, spoke English, Spanish, Italian and her native tongue Slovenian.  So she apologized in advance for any missteps or pauses she made while talking to us, as Spanish was not her first, nor even her second language although she was  married to a Mexican man and lives here in Cozumel.
           As we headed to our destination she began to tell how Christmas is celebrated in Mexico. The people of her adopted country start their marathon of festivities on December 12th, Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and continue right on through December 24th and 25th, Christmas Eve,  Christmas Day and beyond. When asked what day we thought Christmas would end, several called out January 6th, Feast of the Three Kings. But no, she explained, here in Mexico Christmas comes to a close on February 2ndDía de la Candelaria or in the US, Candlemass Day.  Rosanna told us that the long Mexican Christmas season follows the Feast Days and Holy Days of the Catholic Church. Candlemass is the Feast of Mary’s Purification in the temple 40 days after Jesus birth.
           After a short drive, we debarked in a small community and Rosanna first led us through a beautiful diverse garden, then to the oldest Catholic church in the area, built from the stones of the Mayan Temple ruins that were right next door. First we toured what was left of the Mayan temple, dark moss covered stones, mostly crumbled, but the structure was still evident with a small rectangle entrance. Rosanna said it was fitting to have remnants of the worship of ancient deities included in the Catholic Church as the practice of the Catholic religion in Mexico is inundated with native rituals and symbols.
           The front fascia of the church was in the style of an old Spanish mission, topped with small arch and hanging bell. The front double doors were wreathed with multi colored flowers.   Inside, the church was very modest; a large crucifix above a small altar, white washed adobe walls, and rows of simple wood pews.  Candles and statues of saints were simple but holy. I felt the sacredness of this place, which makes sense since it is a functioning Catholic parish.
           Back outside, in front of the church we were each given colorful Mexican ponchos to wear over our clothes and kerchiefs to tie around our necks. Rosanna explained we were now wearing traditional clothing and we would be going on a trek called las posadas. This is when children, in our case, adults, traverse through town, going door to door singing and asking for entrance for Joseph and Mary. At each home they are told to leave, there is no room. But at the last house, the host invites them in. Here there is a party with food and games and fireworks, all before everyone goes to Midnight Mass. So we began our hot parade. It did not feel at all like Christmas to me. My ankles were itching from the gnats or fleas biting me and I wanted to pull off my heavy colorful poncho and scarf that felt like a hot noose on my neck. But I behaved and did as instructed, as did we all. We were each given a page with the words to the song we would be singing. One side in Spanish, which is what we would attempt to read and pronounce correctly, the other with the English translation. We were to sing only the Pilgrim’s lines and those inside the home would respond. Rosanna gave us a practice run, leading us in the melody. So we processed toward our hosts’ house singing this beautiful song of entreat.  Here is a sample of the words in English.
            In the name of heaven
           I request lodging from you,
           Because she cannot walk,
           My beloved wife.
           My wife is Mary Queen of Heaven
           We ask for lodging for tonight.

           Inside Response:
           This is not an inn so keep going
           I cannot open you may be a rogue.

            Don’t be inhuman;
           Have mercy on us.
           The God of the heavens will reward you for it.

           Inside Response:
            You can go on now and don’t bother us,
           because if I become annoyed
           I’ll give you a trashing.

Upon reading that last line several of us Pilgrims snickered. The inn keeper threatening to thrash Joseph if he doesn’t leave his door.  But eventually the doors opened and the tune changed. We pilgrims entered the home and we all sang the final verses in unison:
           ALL: Enter, holy pilgrims,
           receive this corner,
           for though this dwelling is poor,
           I offer it with all my heart.
           Oh, graced pilgrim,
           Oh, most beautiful Mary.
           I offer you my soul
           so you may have lodging.

           Humble pilgrims,
           Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
           I give my soul for them
           And my heart as well.

           Let us sing with joy,
           all bearing in mind
           that Jesus, Joseph and Mary
           honor us by having come.

Ginger and Joe Watkins in Cozumel, Mexico

The house was actually the residence of an elderly couple who kept their home in the manner of an older traditional Mexican dwelling. The outside was painted a salmon pink, with thatched roof. Once inside we were treated like the tourists we were, led from room to room, to view the many displays; colorful traditional Mexican dresses, a home altar complete with candles, cross, statues, photos of ancestors, flowers and of course several images and a statue of the Virgen de Guadalupe. In the next room we met by  a skeleton sitting in a chair, wearing a white gown, adorned with embroidered flowers, a hat and a purse, ready to take her leave. She is a La Catrina, one of the many adorned skeletons and skull images who appear the first days of November to celebrate the Day of the Dead Día de los Muertos.  This is not a Mexican Halloween but again another Mexican tradition that coincides with a feast of the Catholic Church, November 2nd, All Souls Day, a time when we recall the souls of the faithful departed.

front entrance of our Hosts’ home

           Lastly we passed through the outdoor kitchen where our hosts were preparing lunch for us, frying tortillas on a griddle over an open fire. Then we were led on a tour of the yard. We walked along a path, lined with unique flowers and foliage, pointed out to us, and named by our guide. Joe and I were at the end of the line, so we could not hear what he was saying.  We passed a pen that housed chickens and 2 large turkeys. Joe told the guy in front of us that there were wild turkeys in Ohio and Kentucky, whole flocks could be seen pecking along the brush and woods along any country road. This started a conversation and soon Joe learned the couple, two gentleman about our age, were from Puerto Rico.  He asked them about the recovery from last year’s hurricane, and Maria in 2017. From there it didn’t take long for us to bond over our mutual distaste for the current administration, aka President Trump.
           Our tour ended at the almost life sized nativity scene, complete with the stable, statues and animals. Then we were all seated at long tables under a canopy where we were each given materials to make a paper mâche star piñata, another Christmas Mexican tradition.  We had a lot of fun using Elmer’s glue to paste slips of colored tissue paper on each arm of the star, creating our own unique designs. But Joe rushed ahead pasting his colored papers with no pattern or design, other than to get done.  Everything is a competition with him. I was a close 2nd.  Neither of our creations resembled the beautiful 7 point star Rosanna held up for us to emulate.  As each person completed their creation, they were hung on a clothes line for all to see and compare. Joe had a rapport with one of our guides, who laughed at his piñata star, saying it looked like a rooster.  So I took a marker and added two black eyes and a pointed beak on Joe’s piñata.  Now it really was a rooster.  Eventually every piñata was complete and hanging on the line. Joe’s and mine looked like 5 year olds made them. Of course Dede and Jackie’s’ stars were beautifully decorated. Could have been on Pinterest.

Deloris Zepeda with completed piñata;

           Before lunch we had one more group activity, the breaking of the piñata. As we were working on our projects, our hosts had been hanging a large star piñata from a tree branch. We were all instructed to form a circle around the swinging star and cheer as one person stepped forward, was blindfolded, handed a stick and proceeded to swing at the dancing star full of candy. Rosanna did warn the first persons up to not whack too hard as we wanted the piñata to stay intact for others to take a swing at it. The first two up to bat made contact but no breaks. Jackie took a turn, and did quite well, still no candy though. Deloris was itching to get a hold of the stick, and when she did she took that star out of the ballpark with a swing like Babe Ruth. A fault opened in the swinging vessel and candy spilled out. Joe and a few others, scrambled on the ground grabbing treats to put in the colored bags we were each given. A few more took their turns at the piñata and soon we all had bags of hard candy with names on the wrappers that we could not read. Lots of hot suckers and some Mexican version of the Moon Pie, which I took from Joe’s bag and ate. Someone suggested that Joe should share some of his hall with the others, since he seemed to have acquired more candy than anyone else. He said, “No, I aint’ doin’ that.” To me he said. “I grew up in Over the Rhine. Where you snooze you lose.

Deloris Zepeda whacking swinging 7 point star piñata;

           By this time we were all very hungry, those of us who hadn’t been eating candy. So we lined up to be served a traditional Mexican Candlemass dinner of Tamales.
           As we ate Rosanna told us more about the last day of Mexican Christmas celebrations, February 2nd, Candlmass Day.   Whoever is hosting the meal must bake a cake, much like the circular colorful pastry – King Cakes of Mardi Gras, and hidden inside this cake is a plastic baby Jesus.  Whoever gets the babe in their piece, is now the host for the next  Día de la Candelaria  celebration and they are responsible not only for the baking of the King Cake, but also  given the statue of Baby Jesus from the Christmas Nativity Scene in their church. They are now the Godfather and are responsible for taking care of the holy babe for the whole year. It will be their job to dress the statue in elaborate clothing for the next year’s celebration where he present  the regally attired 1 year old Jesus to the community on February 2nd.  Rosanna said this is a big deal in Mexico, the buying and selling of fine clothing for the baby Jesus statue.
           After eating our sparse lunch, one tamale, and 2 small sides, we each selected a piece of King Cake. Our hosts then served small earthen mugs of deep rich hot cocoa to sip with our pastries.  Jackie took one bite of her cake and yelled. I got it. She spit a pink naked baby into her palm.  Rosanna then asked Jackie to write her address down, as she was going to come there next year on Feb 2nd for dinner.  Then another tourists at another table found the babe in his cake and before it was over JR said. “I got one too”.  So there was obviously more than one Jesus in this cake.
           Lunch over and Godfather selected we all boarded the bus with our little star piñatas. Back in Cozumel, getting back onboard the vessel was an ordeal. A long cattle line, going through the same security I was subjected to early that day.  Back in our cabin, we showered and rested. I dressed to the 9s, wearing my new blingy top and black flowered pants and jewelry.  We, me and Joe, went to Deck 3 Studio to hear the presentation 30,000 years of Art History. It was great. Rudy showed up too. I learned so much about the masters and the time line of each era starting with cave art all the way to the pop art of Andy Warhol and Peter Max.
           Afterward we went with Rudy to their room on Deck 7, #7202. Their room is front center. We walked the whole length of the ship, stern to bow, along the narrow corridors of Deck 7. Nothing but rows of numbered doors, on both sides. The inside cabins had a view of the promenade deck below. The Zepeda’s room does not have a balcony, but it is larger than ours  and they have a big porthole window right over their bed, with a view of sky and sea and the helipad below, on Deck 4.
           We all headed to the Windjammer for dinner, where we met JR and Jackie. The ship began moving around 5 pm and the captain said we’d be traveling around 22-24 knots, a pretty good clip, to get to  Galveston early Sunday. We all could feel the rocking of the boat. Again I began to feel disoriented and dizzy, like I was quite drunk. But by the time we got back to our cabin the sea began to calm down or maybe I began to acclimate to the churning vessel. Joe turned on MSNBC. Impeachment news. UGHHH!!  I got a glass of wine and sat on the balcony, propped up my legs and put ice on my poor left knee.

Read Next Post Dec 14, Sailing North

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