Happy Easter! Here’s Hoping You Have an Egg Cracked on Your Head!

We spent four Easters in Mexico, all of them in San Miguel de Allende and all of them unforgettable.

What a festival! The weeks between Ash Wednesday and Easter morning are a whirlwind of ancient Indian activities and Christian traditions. It makes for an incongruity that is typically Mexican.

While ladies in mantillas are filing into the cathedral for the many masses said during the season, they may weave their way through a parade of half-naked Indians carrying platters of food for the gods. Everything quiets down on Good Friday for a while anyway. The townspeople go home to welcome visitors.The typical Mexican home is attached to the adjoining buildings on either side. It fronts directly on the sidewalk, just as city buildings do in this country. There is a heavy wooden door and maybe a window or two.Go through the door and you’re in an outdoor entryway leading to an open courtyard with each room of the home opening onto it.

The retired gringos have very elaborate settings, but the locals have much smaller courtyards and the rooms are either slept in or cooked in. No space, time, or money for rooms that don’t have a specific purpose.

I love the Mexican houses, especially the homes in the colonial towns. If you think it’s hard to get a building permit in your town, you should ask for one in San Miguel. The answer is no. Always, no.

A building permit can be had if you can replace crumbling stone with crumbling stone, but that’s about it. The city planners (there’s really no such thing) don’t care much what you do to the inside of your courtyard or your house, but if you’re going to make repairs to anything that shows from the street, you have to make them with identical materials. As the town has been there just as it looks today since the 17th century, that’s a pretty tall order.

Anyway, back to Easter.

About sunset on Good Friday, the homes are open to anyone who wants to stop by. The family decorates the entryway with an Easter scene and they offer refreshments to guests.

If it’s a very poor family (and that’s the norm) the flowers in the decorations are made of dirty plastic, the figurine of Christ is chipped and faded, and the candles are burned down to the point where they will hardly stay lit. The family is all there, dressed in their best bibs and tuckers and they are so gracious it breaks your heart.

“Welcome. Please have some water,” one of the children will say, offering a plastic cup of deadly E-coli.

“No, gracias,” we answer in our fractured Spanish. “Su casa est mui bella.”

The family smiles at us even though they have no idea what we are saying in our odd combination of Spanish, French, and Italian.

Every year we stopped at three of four houses and that’s all we could take. We were afraid we would hurt their feelings not accepting their “refreshments.”

When it gets dark, the kids are let loose from their home duties and everyone heads to the square, which in San Miguel is called the “jardin,” because it is truly a garden.

It sits across the street from one of the most curious cathedrals in the world where heroes of the revolution were baptized as infants. Its architecture is ludicrous, fashioned from French postcards, picturing the famous cathedrals of Paris. It’s also beautiful as the spires loom above the jardin.

The trees in the jardin are carefully shaved every month by men with hand clippers atop tall ladders. It takes three or four days to accomplish the job, but when the clippers come down from the ladders, the trees are shaped like huge hockey pucks.

The jardin is lined with iron benches beneath the green hockey pucks where no one sits at sundown because the trees fill with large grackles. The birds flood the town square with their squawks and the benches with their poop.

When the kids come to the jardin after Good Friday visiting, they come armed with colored eggshells filled with confetti. They all race about the square cracking the eggs over each other’s heads.

It’s considered a high honor for a gringo to have an egg cracked on his head. The Mexicans avoid any social contact with their neighbors north of the border, and the egg cracking custom is never bestowed on a gringo unless he has earned the trust of the Mexican kids. We gringas never ever get eggs cracked on our heads. It’s just not done to ladies.

Easter Sunday is a solemn occasion. Everybody goes to church, of course. Actually, most Mexican women to church everyday. There they are at 8 o’clock mass every morning answering the peal of the church bells.

Out on the ancient steps of the church, children and old women sell crosses made from palm fronds. All the shops are closed and there isn’t a sound all over town. Only when the grackles come at sundown is the silence penetrated.

Oh, how I do miss Mexico. It’s a country of heart-stopping extremes. I’ve seen things so horrible they’re etched on my memory forever. I’ve also seen sights so beautiful I wonder sometimes if I’m not unconsciously embellishing them. I hope not.

If you observe Easter, I hope you have a joyous one. I also hope you’re the kind of person who would be likely to have an egg cracked on your head by a Mexican child.

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WE’RE ALL IRISH ON ST. PATRICK’S DAY

When I worked at the newspapers, my favorite journalistic thing to do was research, It still is. I think some of my best work is the result of plowing through reams of old magazines and microfilm to scribble notes, which later were compiled by way of midnight torture into a WORD document that was then rewritten at least a dozen times. I was never satisfied with it, but as I heard in an episode of Mr. Selfridge, “Nothing sharpens a journalist’s pencil or her wit like a deadline.” There were many occasions when an editor ripped my story from the printer and sent it to be pasted up, as I begged her to let me give it one last look. Ah, the bad ol’ days. I don’t miss them. The Internet is God’s gift to a features writer. I wrote the following little story at least 25 years ago. It did require research, but not hours and hours of wrenching hard work. In fact, if I remember correctly, I enjoyed doing it. I know I loved writing it. Hope you like it as well.

 

The banks and the post office won’t close for it, and most of us will have to trudge into work just like any other day, but never mind; this week gives us one of our favorite holidays. We’ll wear a bit o’ green on March 17 and celebrate, because we’re all Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.

How we celebrate is strictly a personal matter, and will most likely have nothing to do with the patron saint of Ireland. The kindly and simple bishop who brought Christianity to that country would probably be amazed at our raucous remembrance of him on his day.

On the other hand, maybe he wouldn’t mind all our hoopla so much, for if ever there lived a saint to have his day shrouded in a jumble of myths, all firmly rooted in thin air, St. Patrick was the one.

For example, remember those snakes that he was supposed to have chased from the Irish countryside into the sea? Sorry. It just didn’t happen. Zoologists determined a long time ago there were no snakes in Ireland at the time St. Pat trod the shamrocks.

In fact, it may come as a surprise to learn that he wasn’t even Irish.

Patrick was actually British, or more accurately Roman, since Great Britain was part of the Roman Empire when he was born in 389 AD to Christian parents. When he was 16 years old, he was kidnapped by pirates and taken to Ireland, then a wild pagan country, where he was sold into slavery. He escaped after six years and vowed never to return to Ireland.

But the future saint shouldn’t have been so sure. In a dream, an angel came to him and handed him a bundle of letters marked “from the Irish.” This most unlikely legend is probably true, for it is sketchily documented in “Confessions,” one of his two writings still surviving.

The letters begged him to come back to Ireland and to bring Christianity with him. Patrick decided to answer the call. His life constantly in danger, he traveled over the island preaching, and transformed the heathen land into a Roman Catholic country.

The most prevalent legend about St. Patrick’s ministry may or may not be true, but it makes a charming story. One day he was preaching to a great crowd assembled in a field. His listeners were having difficulty understanding the Trinity. In a flash of inspiration, Patrick bent over and plucked a trefoil shamrock.

“Do you not see,” he asked the people, “how in this wildflower three leaves are united on one stalk, and will you not then believe that there are indeed three persons and yet one God?” Bingo! The assembly made the connection and the shamrock became the symbol of the Trinity as well as the national emblem of Ireland.

St. Patrick lived to the ripe old age of 72, a rare feat in those days. His death occurred suddenly on a day in early spring when the shamrocks had just barely greened the hillsides. Shocked, the people of Ireland went into a long period of mourning. When it was over, no one could remember whether the good man died on March 8 or March 9. Perplexed, they added the two numbers together and came up with March 17, probably another myth. When St. Patrick was canonized, the made-up day of his death became his feast day.

So, celebrate however you choose. If you’re thinking a night on the town might set your Irish eyes to smiling, many local watering holes turn into Irish pubs for a day. One of them might just be your cup of tea or, more likely, your stein of green beer.

If a boisterous night out doesn’t appeal to you, rent a video of “The Quiet Man,” stir up a rich Irish coffee, wrap yourself in a green afghan, and be an Irish couch potato for the evening.

St. Patrick stood up for his beliefs, and he won’t mind if you sit down for yours.