Sunday, March 22, 2009

Christmas Eve - San Cristobal de las Casas

San Cristobal de las Casas is an old city, long inhabited before the Europeans arrived. Decedents of those ancient peoples still proudly wear the clothing that they have woven and embroidered. However, you are just as likely to see people dressed in the latest fashions from Europe or a shopkeeper in dreadlocks. At siesta time, you are very likely to find yourself alone - even on Christmas Eve.

For the most part, the city is Catholic, but the old ways are obviously intertwined with the teaching of Rome. Recently touched by the Zapatista Revolution, the city is split between those who wish the Zapatistas would quietly go away and those who sympathize or at the very least cooperate with the movement. Zapatista art is ubiquitous in the city.

Color was everywhere! In the shops, on the streets, in the clothing and in the Christmas decorations that draped every flat surface, vertical and horizontal.

Our hotel, Hotel Guadalupe, was a remodeled, rehabbed colonial home. The interior patio had been covered with a retractable glass roof allowing light to pour into the rooms which opened up around the resulting atrium on three levels. The best part of the hotel was the brand new "just out of the box kitchen." Located across the street from the Church of Guadalupe, it was certainly easy to find. We climbed the hill to the church on our first night. It was worth every step.

On Christmas Eve we all attended Midnight Mass (they told us it would start at seven; it actually started at eight; by midnight it was long over) at the Santo Domingo Cathedral. The procession included several children in the traditional roles of the nativity. It was all very grand with clouds of incense, masses of candles, and music - from both inside and outside the church. After mass, we walked the streets, jostling for space with virtually every resident of San Cristobal. Everyone wanted a taste of the festivities. The streets were lined with impromptu booths selling candy, punche, toys, tamales, wool clothing, rebozos, etc., etc., etc. Santa Claus was roaring up and down the streets in a Jeep Cherokee. It was all too wonderful.

The skies looked stormy most of the time without ever producing a single drop of rain; the nights were cold; the days were warm. We bought bread from a street vendor, oogled lovers, tried to persuade an old woman to pose for a photo, enjoyed watching the kids and generally hung out. Stanley got a shoe shine and I discovered that I have a real thing for The Tree of Life.