Last Sunday was the rehearsal for the festivities of St. Michael’s feast day, which comes up in late September. The rehearsal procession was itself long and fascinating. It was laced with symbolism, including the dead, Jesus’ crucifixion buddy and a bullish master of ceremonies, who was not long for this world either.
It behind the bus station in the neighborhood of Las Cuevitas (the caves). There the indigenous dancers and mojigangas (large paper mache puppets) approached the cross asking to begin the procession.
Then they danced up to the church of St. Michael’s (la Parroquia). Dancing is how the indigenous pray. At the Parroquia they prayed, as the Catholics do, at the cross left behind by the Jesuits when they were forced to flee Mexico in 1767.
At the cross they addressed Saint Dimas, the good thief. Dimas died on the cross alongside Jesus. He is the only person who we known for sure to be in Heaven, since Jesus told him that he’ll see Dimas in heaven later that day. Pilgrims addressed Dimas to ask for permission to steal a bull, since Dimas was the good thief. (Gespas, the bad thief, was on the other side of Jesus and poked fun at his expense. Consequently, Gespas is not mentioned as being in Heaven.)
In today’s world the bull is given the procession by a local family, but the tradition of asking St. Dimas’ permission continues. Historically the bull led the procession, as a sort of master of ceremonies, wearing the spices, vegetables and chilies with which he’ll later be cooked. However, today he simply carries lightweight paper flowers.
Next the procession went to the old cemetery behind San Juan de Dios Church to include the Spanish dead there in the celebrations. The Chichimeca dead were previously included back at the Parroquia, which was built upon the Chichimeca graveyard.
Lastly the procession returned to it’s starting point and there after the preparation of the meal, the bullish master of ceremonies was ready and the dancers all have their fill of meat.