The day after the Radish Festival was Christmas Eve, which in Oaxaca was called Noche Buena. We had a slow day, sleeping late, going to the market for groceries, finding a newspaper to wrap presents in (I had brought ribbon but not wrapping paper) and generally resting after a rough month and a long trip. I had read that the local posadas ended their routes at the square, and didn't want to miss the party, so in the evening we went down to the Zócalo for dinner. By 8pm the square was completely packed with balloon-sellers, inflatable-toy-sellers, light-up-toy-sellers, pastry-sellers, popcorn-sellers, couples, families, tourists, and hundreds of very young children shrieking with excitement:
"What's a posada?" you might ask. Well, it's sort of a parade. The guidebooks say it represents Mary and Joseph roaming through Bethlehem looking for a place to stay (I think 'posada' means 'inn.') Apparently there's a Posada for every neighborhood, and they go on for a week before Christmas, and involve lots of parties and pinatas. On Christmas Eve, they all come together in the main square. Here's what I saw.
A posada begins with a band. Mostly brass instruments and drums playing loud, cheerful music - I have never in my life seen so many tubas in one place!
Then there is usually a large star lit with candles and bearing the name of the church. This one is from La Basilica de la Soledad.
Mary and Joseph follow, bearing the infant Jesus. Joseph always has a large beard, which looks very funny on the young boys playing the part. The smaller posadas let the Holy Family walk, but the larger groups set them up on elaborately decorated trucks,
often with the little angels riding with them, swinging their feet off the sides and throwing candy when they think of it.
Several extremely enthusiastic groups even had fireworks! One brave soul would carry a sort of wheel set with rockets that spun and threw sparks everywhere. The crowds always stepped back to give them lots of room!
One parade had these fabulous puppets mounted on adults' shoulders, dancing and spinning in the street.
So there you have the basics:
Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus,
When all the posadas reached the Zócalo, they paraded around the square for a long time (we got tired and left before they did) and the noise was astounding, with each band following on the heels of the other, and the State band of Oaxaca giving a concert in the central bandstand and completely drowned out by the raucous marching bands. Very different from our New England tradition of church, carols, and a big dinner with family and friends. Viva la difference! And especially,
All the photos in this post were shot handheld because
A) I forgot my tripod just inside the front door back home, dammit, and
B) things were moving too fast to use one anyway.
I cranked the ISO up to 1600, opened the aperture wide (mostly around f4), held my breath a lot while shooting, and cleaned up the noise as best I could in post-processing.