Saturday, December 09, 2006

I Love a Parade

Downtown, the traffic had stopped dead. It soon became clear that a parade was coming. There were two modest "floats:" One battered pickup truck bearing a cardboard statue of a saint of indeterminate gender atop the cab, and another truck with many brightly colored crepe paper streamers, a dilapidated sound truck with huge, tinny speakers blaring Mexican music from the bed, and about a thousand people on foot including a man carrying a lone tuba which he was not playing.

A mariachi band would have been nice, but there was none. It was a low-budget affair.

Everybody was dressed in traditional Mexican clothing, always a colorful banquet for the eyes. The women wore long dresses and shawls, the men, sombreros and boots. Excited children ran back and forth in the long lines of people.

I didn't have time to stop, but thought maybe it was a celebration of Saint Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico. I learned later that the traditional Posadas, which in Mexico begins on December 16th and includes nightly parades for nine days until Christmas, is a simpler celebration in the Bay Area. One procession is the norm here, and I think that is what I saw today.

The word "posada" means "to ask for shelter." The tradition of Posadas is based on the idea that people should experience the hardships Joseph and Mary endured during their escape from Bethlehem before the birth of Jesus. It is a reenactment of their arduous search for shelter. The ritual has retained its ancient flavor to this day.

People go in bands from house to house, asking for food and shelter. They are rejected at each one until finally, somebody invites them in and the celebrations begin.

Giving birth among field animals is probably optional.

Across the street from the marchers, Gwyneth Paltrow looked on from a large poster on which she hawked Estee Lauder perfume. There was nothing low budget about Ms. Paltrow, whose gown cost more than a city in Mexico. She was wearing Van Cleef & Arpels diamonds instead of a shawl.

A few blocks away, three Santas were stranded on a street corner. They were exceedingly thin Santas, also young. One of them had forgotten to put on his white beard. They were not carrying sacks of toys, nor did they have sleds or reindeer.

One of them was reeling as he yelled at passing cars, "You don't like us."

Well, all right, then. I'm not leaving cookies for these guys.

I'm holding out for the mariachi band.


s@bd said...

I had no idea.


heartinsanfrancisco said...


Nor did I. I'd love to live in Mexico for awhile and soak up the color, the pageantry, and right now, the sunny beaches.

Jocelyn said...

Well, you're just too good a writer! That Gwynteth touch was a nice one. Thanks for the overview of this celebration...

Le Nightowl said...

Too bad you couldn't take pictures yourself (although I love this last piccie of the mariachi band)... on the other hand who needs pictures when the story is so colourful?
Great story-telling, HISF!

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Why, thank you, Jocelyn. Look who's talking.

I was struck by the artificially elegant glamour of the poster juxtaposed with the meager but heartfelt sincerity of the parade.

You should have been there.


I do take pictures constantly, but left home without camera today. I was instantly sorry.

Odat said...

Every time I see a mariachi band, I picture the banditos coming right after it shooting the bad

Pickled Olives said...

I do love a parade. The day of the dead celebration was always cool back in San Antonio. My kids always ask the mariachi bands to play the hat dance. Its all very embarrassing.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Looocy, 'splain yourself.

Do you mean the mariachi musicians are bad, or that they are the first line of offense for the banditos?


The Day of the Dead is a wonderful custom.

In San Diego, we often went to a restaurant that had wandering mariachi players. You wouldn't believe how many times in an evening they had to play the hat dance! I usually requested "Cielito Lindo," because I know the words. :)

An explosive said...

Thank you for this! It's always interesting to see how everyone celebrates the same Holiday! All the Best! ~M

heartinsanfrancisco said...

My heart,

I'm an anthropologist at heart. I think we can learn so much about people by observing their customs and traditions.

Often, what we learn is that in most cases, we're not all that different.

Open Grove Claudia said...

Los Pasadas! How fun! In Los Angeles, it's a big celebration on Olivaras street. People come from all over every night to participate. They walk in a procession with lit candles. Sometimes they sing. It's cool.

I'm thinking that Gwenie doesn't celebrate it though. She's not Catholic and she lives in London. It would never fly there...

Stewart Sternberg said...

I am going to have to post about this on my own blog at some point...but coming from Detroit and going to a rural community..and I mean rural...I was treated to some interesting activities that I never would have dreamed possible in Detroit.

In Sanilac, for instance, I was exposed to something called The Farm Implement Christmas Parade. equipment, mostly old and battered, were draped with lights and tinsel and ridden, along with various livestock, down the middle of the street.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Oliveras Street! One of my favorite places. The lit candles are lovely, and probably too dangerous for San Francisco, where most people seem to be running on autopilot.


The Farm Implement Christmas Parade. I'm outclassed here. Totally. (Of course I don't live in Michigan.) It makes sense as a celebration of the tools whereby the community survives.

Please do post about that one. I can't wait to read it.

The CEO said...

People aren't different. What an interesting theory. I thought you were a writer too. I didn't know you were an anthropologist.

The CEO said...

Actually, you must excuse me, I don't know you at all.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I believe that what I said was that people are not all that different. This allows for dissimilarities as well as common meeting grounds.

And I said that I was an anthropologist at heart, which connotes intense and continuing interest in other cultures w/o working in the field.

I think of myself as a writer.

mist1 said...

Giving birth in a field of animals isn't covered by most insurance companies.

Polyman3 said...

I have a feeling I was there,
under a shady tree, watching from the sidelines. After the first float went by I turned to you and you shrugged.
We both laughed and passed a bottle of tequila and threw a few coins to the children following the parade.

...or maybe I dreamed it.

urban-urchin said...

This reminds me of when I lived in LA.

We had the snowflake parade here last weekend- not quite the same thing but it reminded me of how fun parades are esp. since we marched in it with my daughter's brownie troop.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


And I was sure you liked Gwyneth better.



Did you wear a little brown dress and beanie, too?

Send pictures!

Nihilistic said...

I love me a mariachi band!!

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I love me one, too.

velvet girl said...

Great post!

I hear you on wanting to go to Mexico for a while. Our culture here is so reserved compared to other cultures with their close communities, old traditions, and enthusiastic celebrations of life.

I suppose that it's a natural result of being a melting pot culture (or salad bowl or whatever). As a result, we have no real traditions for us to join together to celebrate.

Odat said...

LOL...I mean in all the movies...every time you see a mariachi band, you just know there's going to be a shoot out right after it......sorry! lol

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Uh oh. Now you tell me.

I've already reserved the field, and it's only 2 weeks away.


It seems as if all cultures become diluted when they come here. I would like to experience many of them in their pure form.


Obviously, I need a refresher course in Westerns. As a child, I always sympathized with the Indians and banditos while eating Goobers during all those Saturday matinees.

furiousBall said...

mariachi bands are like breath mints for your soul.

The Skinny Santas sounds like band name, not a good band name, but a band name...

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I love your line about breath mints for the soul!

And The Skinny Santas does sound like a band name, right down there with The Dead Kennedys.

Lee said...

If they came to my door, I would say, "Quieres Tequila?"

I'm sure a pregnant Mary coulda used a slug right? Is that wrong?

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I don't think Mary was old enough to drink, poor dear. A teenaged mother, too. Oy.

Matt said...

A mariachi band dresses anything up!

Jerri said...

Seeking shelter seems so appropriate at the moment. Wouldn't it be terrific to live and celebrate with all the color and fervor of our soul's desire?

If I see or hear of one more movie or tv show where "saving Christmas" involves making sure the fat guy in the sleigh makes his rounds in time, I just may toss my color-coordinated, seasonal red and green cookies.

Thanks for a lovely look at another world, including Gweneth and her diamonds.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I agree. They're always great.


Maybe if the fat guy in the sleigh didn't eat so many red and green cookies. he could get around faster.

2:49 PM

Cece said...

OMG I got stuck in the traffic of one of those parades, not too long ago. Even though I'm Mexican, I was PISSED b/c I had errands to do before I met up with my family for dinner! I wasn't a happy Mexican. LOL *lol* We're going to Mexico in March, I can't wait! I love Mexico.

I loved how you told the story, though.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Now that sounds like the height of unfairness, to be Mexican and stuck in a traffic jam caused by a Mexican parade.

Years ago, I was in New York City on St. Patrick's Day. There were a million marching bands, floats, you-name-it, and all I wanted to do was cross 5th Avene. But there was no break in the oncoming marchers.

I finally walked up to a young black policeman and said, "I'm not Irish. Can you get me out of this?"

He said, "That makes two of us, baby." And he put his arm around me and half carried me across the street, right through the marchers and floats, to the other side.

I thanked him and he bowed and kissed my hand. Prince Charming in an NYPD uniform!

I *heart* NY!

katrice said...

Wow! Thanks for the background on Las Posadas. I had heard of this before, but never in such clear detail.

I *heart* that NYPD officer too. How chivalrous!

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Did I mention that he was very cute? He half-danced, half-carried me through that swarm of carousers like Moses parting the Red Sea, except everyone was in green.

Lex said...

My favorite times with the holidays was when I was teaching elementary school. I had the best time exploring holiday traditions of different cultures with the little ones. Las Posadas was always one of my favorites.

I want tamales for Christmas. I don't think it will catch on in MD. But I know they eat them in TX.

Another great post.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Hey Lex,

St. Paul said, "Better to marry than to burn." I've always thought that meant why eat goose if you really crave tamales.

I think you should have whatever you please on Christmas.

All is forgiven. Please come home.