Mexico is a great country for festivals and saints days, and on such occasions the streets are filled with crowds of good natured peoplemany of whom are the peons or working classwho jostle each other (though they never fail to apologize for doing so), and throng the little markets buying souvenirs for friends. In particular, Christmas time is a gala occasion and all Mexico turns out to buy curious things unheard of in other countries. These people make a specialty of odd and curious toys and one can take a choice of bears that dance when a string is pulled, woolly monkeys, Chinese-like lanterns, confetti, and candied fruits. These are piled in a jumble on little tables to tempt the customer. Queerest of all the toys are the naguales, dolls with a woolly body and a grotesque human face. They are hideous productions which are supposed by the children to have magical powers over evil and to ward off Satan, a belief shared by many of the Mexican Indians of older growth who live in shut-in portions of the country. The strangest sight in the Mexican market at Christmas time is the pinata. This is a queer figure two to five feet high, built on a bamboo frame. Sometimes these incongruous images represent clowns, fashionable women, or unheard-of animals, but they are always fat-bellied, with a form cut out of cardboard and the center or torso made of an olla or bowl. These odd figures are suspended by strings from the head and are dressed in gay silks or tissue paper. It is a common thing to see an Indian or a high-class citizen walking through the streets with one of them suspended from his shoulders. When the pinata reaches home it is suspended in the patio and on Christmas night it is given a blow in the stomach by the youngest child in the family. Rattles, dolls, toys, and many things to delight the little ones fall out and the secret of its corpulency is revealed. No family is too poor to have one and it takes the place of our Christmas stockings. Mexicans "are exclusive and it is a mark of honor for a stranger to be invited to a posada or family party. These are held by the richest and poorest and last from the 16th to the 24th of December. The word posada means an abiding place or inn and the custom originated from the fact that Joseph and Mary journeyed nine days before the birth of Christ. Every night they were obliged to seek shelter. On the evening chosen for the religious celebrationwhich is usually the 9thafter merry-making on the preceding eight evenings, the friends and servants arrive and the family priest reads mass in a room in which is an altar. Over the altar hangs a picture of the Virgin. Below is a model of a stable and images of the Holy Family. These statues are onyx or clay, according to the means of the family. After mass has been said every man, woman, and child who attends the posada walks with candle in 458 hand in solemn procession from cellar to attic. The figures of Mary and Joseph are borne reverently in front, and the worshipers intone the litany as they proceed, pausing at doors to beg admittance just as Joseph and Mary did over nineteen hundred years ago. When the litany is finished a few enter a room and the others sing to an ancient chant: "In Heaven's name I beg for shelter, My wife to-night can go no further." This is supposed to be Joseph's plea, and those within the room answer: "No inn is this, begone from hence, Ye may be thieves, I trust ye not." After knocking at many doors and chanting this indefinitely the party at midnight reaches a room chosen for the conclusion of the ceremony. Often this is the roof, for Mexicans learned to use that part of the house long before we had roof gardens. Here is a sort of stable and in it the images of Joseph and Mary are reverently deposited. Care is taken that this part of the posada takes place just as the bells of the churches begin to ring in Christmas morning. All the ramifications of a family are bidden to this semi-religious festival, and each year one house of a family circle is chosen for the celebration. The ceremony is the same, no matter what the station of the people. Mexico City has another fiesta at Carnival time, which, while it cannot compare with those in Rome and New Orleans, is well worth going to see. On Ash Wednesday every good Catholic woman wears somber black, which is at all seasons the favorite church costume. At this time devout people have a cross marked in ashes on their foreheads, and as this is done in the early morning by the priest and is seldom washed off, it lingers for some time as a sort of humiliation. The Saturday before Easter all this penance vanishes and students and young people parade the paseo or avenue dressed in old Spanish costumes and as clowns. A most curious custom takes place on this same day, for Judas is burned in public. It is said this strange performance is peculiar to Mexico, and at any rate it seems unique to strangers. All over the streets of the large cities and villages are hideous paper dolls from two to five feet in height, stuffed with straw and containing coins, fireworks, and bread in their stomachs. These images are strung across the street, in courtyards, in parks and any convenient place and present a remarkable sight. They are homely and crude and are supposed to represent Judas ready for punishment. When all is ready the bells of the cathedral, which can be heard for miles around, peal forth, the other churches take up the chimes, and by 10 o'clock Saturday morning the whole town is ready to turn out to. burn the numerous effigies and in this way punish Judas for his treachery in betraying Christ. As soon as the figure begins to ignite, the poor who have taken their station underneath rush forward for the coins and bread, and a great scramble ensues. Sometimes Judas represents an unpopular man and it seems a great relief to burn his effigy. Free fights ensue for the contents of Judas's stomach and the carnival ends in a small riot. The Jockey Club of Mexico City is the richest and most exclusive club in the republic. It is housed in a dwelling made of tiles, designed by Count Orizaba, who brought the glistening bricks from Spain, and the fashionables of the city belong to it. For many years they had the most elaborate Judas in town. On one occasion it was mounted on a horse whose accouter-ments, saddle, stirrups, etc., were made of embossed leather. Judas was dressed in an expensive and gaudy suit, with tight fitting trousers decorated with silver coins up the side, and gold-embroidered felt sombrero that cost in the neighborhood of fifty dollars. Of course the populace went nearly wild over such an exhibition, and when the match was lighted and it was discovered that Judas's interior anatomy consisted of fireworks that exploded with a terrific noise and made the sky lurid for miles around, the peons started such a free fight that the police were obliged to ask the Jockey Club to discontinue such exhibitions. Another fiesta day is All Saints', when the cemeteries are filled with people who camp out, put flowers on the graves of their dead, and eat picnic lunches on "the dead tables" spread for the occasion. In some places ices are molded in the shape of skulls, and though the people do not intend to appear festive the occasion seems somewhat like a party to the bewildered outsider. Dates Tlirive on Colorado Desert. Recent experiments made at the government farm at Mecca, Arizona, with the date palm have proved that dates can be cultivated on the Colorado desert with equal the facility reached in the Sahara desert, from which the palms for the 15-acre Mecca farm were brought. Although this farm has been in cultivation for only three years, already the palms are bearing well; and this season contain from one to three branches of dates, each bearing upward of twenty pounds. A year ago it was believed the Salton Sea was to overflow and submerge the Mecca farm, and the government officials purchased ten acres of land near Indio, to which the Mecca palms were to be removed. The water was stopped, however, and now the two farms will be utilized, suckers from the Mecca farm plants being transplanted at Indio. Of the ten or more varieties there, some are very rare, and as soon as they come into their full bearing it is proposed to establish a packing house, and experiments with packing and shipping the fruit will be conducted on an extensive scale.
This article was originally published with the title "Mexican Fiestas"