A quick trip to San Diego last week included a nighttime visit to the San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas which has decked out what seems to be all of its 37 acres with twinkling fairy lights, whirling kaleidoscopes of rainbow colors, washing waves of luminescent greens and reds, and light sculptures — all set against a canvas of bamboo groves, desert agave and palm plants, tropical rainforests, California palm trees, sturdy and ancient trees, Mediterranean bushes, and sub-tropical fruit trees.
There was even a snow-making machine if the light show weren’t enough for you. There was also wine by the glass for Mom & Dad. Pro tip: A night like this calls for a nice strong red with a side snack of kettle corn.
Sometime between Thursday night when I left San Miguel de Allende and Saturday night when I returned, the life-size crèche popped up in the Jardin Principal, just across from Parroquia San Miguel Arc Angel.
Just in time, too. The plaza will be the final stop on the nine-night journey of Joseph and Mary in search of a place to rest and give birth to the baby Jesus, Dec. 16-24. Eight other communities in San Miguel have each, in turn, held a Posada which ends with pageantry, music, gifts, food, pinatas, celebration, and veneration.
Ok, you won’t listen to me or your brother or your doctor. Then try listening to a few icons of Mexican culture, like Che Guevara, Frida Kahlo, and Emiliano Zapata. During 2021, the artist Enrique Díaz has harnessed iconography and linoleum engraving art to deliver the ultimate survival message.
His works — this is only a sampling — is on display in Belles Artes, the recently reopened Centro Cultural Ignacio Ramírez El Nigromante at Calle del Dr Ignacio Hernandez Macias #75 in Centro.
Monday afternoon, the children are in full-dress on the plaza of Parroquia San Antonio de Padua, in Colonia San Antonio for the traditional Pastorela. They have been rehearsing on the same patio most afternoons. They would sit in a circle and run through their parts with several ladies who show great gentleness, humor, and patience.
The Pastorela pageant recounts the adventures of the shepherds as they head to Bethlehem to worship the newly born baby Jesus on Christmas Day. They face numerous temptations — as you can see, an exuberant band of devils — and in some tellings, it is St. Michael who comes to their rescue. Go, San Miguel!
The Pastorela as a theatrical piece and oral story tradition has been embellished, modernized, changed in tone, and grown as any living, breathing thing — but the essential tale of trials, temptation, salvation, and redemption remains the same.
Another wonderful tradition, Las Posadas, will be celebrated in Mexico on Dec. 16-24 and follows the journey of Jesus and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem. On each of the nine nights, the procession heads out to a specific home seeking comfortable lodging for Mary to give birth. Families, children, musicians, singers, and others follow Mary and Joseph each night.
Of course, they are turned away (but rarely without treats and beverages.) When they end up back at the church, the children are given the chance to crack open star-shaped pinatas and scramble for the treats that spill to the ground.
Las Posadas tradition has existed for 440 years in Spain and Mexico.
The main square in Centro, Jardin Allende, flows red with poinsettias — while in the trees above, white fairy lights twinkle after the sun sets. San Miguel de Allende awaits Christmas with color, beauty, eagerness, and joy.
One thing San Miguel de Allende does well is dress up for the holidays.
Not just San Miguel. Every village, town, and city in the country brings out a million white lights, an enormous community tree, a life-size Nativity scene, and an infectious cheeriness that makes you glad to be living in Mexico.
Which I happen to do.
So here is a small collection of what is ahead in December.
Sunday night was the first night of Chanukah — the Festival of Lights — and the lighting of the first candle of the menorah. The Chanukah celebration is observed for eight nights and days, with a new candle being lit each evening.
I know all this because I was walking Moppit in Parque Juarez when I happened upon members of Chabad San Miguel de Allende lighting the community menorah in the park’s gazebo.
I missed most of the dedication, but I happened upon the gathering just as Rabbi Daniel Huebner was explaining the significance of this year’s menorah, created by artist Meila Penn.
Traffic finally emptied on the Ancha at 8 p.m. Monday and down the broad street, and out from the Rosewood resort, streamed hundreds of Catrinas, Catrinos, ghouls, skeletons, and even an underworld creature or two.
And they came on fast — as if all the pent-up energy from last year’s cancelled parade was unleashed atop this year’s and resulted in a headlong rush to the finish.
The crowd where Nemiseo Diaz meets the Ancha was so thick and eager that costumed paraders had to run a tight gauntlet, elbowing their way to the merger point.
It wasn’t so much a parade as a fast jog of the living dead in glorious technicolour and fabulous costumes. They marched, they merged, they posed for pictures, they trundled up Zacaterous, turned onto Canal and cascaded into the Plaza Principal where the crush of Catrinas and onlookers must have been something else.
You meet the strangest characters on the streets of San Miguel de Allende at this time of year.
Bigger than life, a bit on the emaciated side, and not that responsive to a cheery hello. Their appearance marks the run-up to Dia de los Muertos — Day of the Dead — although I’m seeing that more and more in the plural, Days of the Dead, as just one day no longer seems enough.
Bars, hotels, and boutiques seem to especially revere the dead as they decorate and plan events for days leading up to the traditional Nov. 1 celebration. Door frames get beautiful floral treatments, too.