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This City Knows How to Party

Parades, explosive rockets booming from nearby houses in the middle of the night on national holidays, days for local saints, anniversaries, birthdays, or just because somebody feels like celebrating. It’s constant. But I couldn’t wait to see what September was like because that’s when two of the most important days of the year happen. September 15th is the anniversary of the beginning of the Mexican Revolution in 1810. The war for independence started with a cry, “el grito,” given by priest/revolutionary Miguel Hidalgo, “Viva Mexico…Viva Mexico…Viva Mexico!” The revolutionaries answered with the same cry three times, “Viva Mexico!” and then joined him in the fight for independence from Spain. The war lasted 11 long and bloody years. “El grito” has been repeated on September 15 ever since in every locality of the country. This year, because of the pandemic, people couldn’t go to the town center to gather as usual. Only those officially invited could participate. But nothing could stop the enthusiasm of the Mexicans, not even the ban on attending. Buildings in el centro in San Miguel were draped with flags and buntings of red, green and white, and tinseled lettering for weeks ahead of time, “Viva Mexico.” Restaurant menus listed special dishes. The Mexican women I know all said they would be watching the broadcast on tv that night, and everyone in their families would be shouting “Viva Mexico” back to the television screen when it was time. Afterward,they would all be eating pesole.

This year, in addition to the pandemic, there was a relentless rainstorm that day. It is still rainy season here, and the deluge on September 15th was one of the heaviest, longest-lasting “tormentas”, that we’ve been through since Jack and I moved here in mid-July. Couldn’t the revolutionaries have picked dry season to get the war started? It would have made it so much more pleasant to celebrate. But in spite of the downpour, the event on tv was spectacular. Through the sheets of falling rain, the Parroquia, the historic pink church that dominates the center of the city, was abalze in colored lights. Singers with their bands performed as scheduled, giving animated, enthusiastic performances. Then the camera focused on the Mayor standing erectly in his dark, dignified suit next to his wife, who wore a magnificent, red green and white strapless ballgown. Her hair was piled on top of her head in an elaborate chignon, laquered within an inch of its life. They had no umbrellas, but marched across the square looking straight ahead as though no rain were falling. Speeches were given, documents signed. They climbed the steps of the church, she stepped aside as he shouted the cry, “Viva Mexico…Viva Mexico… Viva Mexico!” The other assembled dignitaries and the tv announcers all yelled back enthusiastically three times, “Viva Mexico!” Then a fireworks display. I knew my Mexican aquaintenances and friends and their families were watching from their homes as we were, but they were yelling back their response to their televisions before heading to the kitchen for a bowl of pesole.

I couldn’t imagine what more they might do for the patron saint of San Miguel Arcángel de Allende on his day, but I knew it was going to be quite the celebration. According to Judaism, Islam and Christianity, Michael was the angel who fought Lucifer from heaven in a battle of good over evil. As part of his saint’s day, September 29, to represent the battle in San Miguel, the “Alborada” takes place. Loosely translated it means to attack the dawn. The tradition was started in the early 1900’s by factory workers, hairdressers, and labororers who used to gather at the old Aurora Factory in San Miguel and march to the middle of town around 3:00 a.m. when they started to party, to celebrate Michael’s victory. At 4:00 a.m. the fireworks start. We set our alarms for 4:00 and went up to our rooftop terrace with a view of the city. The church in the distance gleamed in colorful lights like a beacon. Suddenly the whole sky exploded in a sound and light display, a burst of red and green that went on until 5:00 a.m. No crowds like on the 4th of July in the States. No jostling. just Jack and me together, glorying in the spectacle around us.

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