Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Early spring

Central and southern Mexico’s climate, as is true most anywhere in the tropics, is determined more by elevation above sea level than by latitude north or south of the equator.  Climate is quite constant throughout the year; if it weren't for an awareness of the traditional four seasons of our northern neighbors, seasons here would simply be rainy season and dry season. That's probably how, through the millenia, they were known by native peoples. 

With the invasion of the Colonial powers in time past came the imposition of Summer, Fall. Winter, and Spring even though these seasons in Mexico bear little to no resemblance to how they are thought of in Europe or by Mexico’s northern neighbors. It is Summer -- when the rains fall -- that brings greenery and planting. The Spring months are frequently the hottest and driest of the year.  

Though usually thought of as occurring on March 21, this year the spring equinox was on March 20.  Last Wednesday was the day on which the sun -- on its apparent trip north from the Tropic of Capricorn -- crossed the equator on its way towards a rendezvous with the Tropic of Cancer (which runs through northern Mexico) on June 21. 

Of the four seasons, in Mexico Spring seems to take precedence over the other three in being commented, and written about.

For a number of weeks we've been reading about the tourism bonanza Mexico's Caribbean coast is enjoying.  "Spring breakers", usually written in italics, has entered Mexican Spanish media lexicon without even a need for translation.  They make up a steady flow of tourists for a couple of months.  Mainly college aged -- from the US and Canada -- they come for fun and sun and most seem to share a lack of inhibition. However, they come with thick wallets full of dollars; even staid Mexican government and law enforcement officials realizing the boon to the economy, bend the rules to accommodate and welcome them.

Here on the home front, away from the southeastern resorts, March 21st has traditionally been a Mexican holiday -- Benito Juarez's birthday -- fortuitously guaranteeing free access to archeological sites for those wanting to welcome the arrival of spring by charging themselves with energy at archeological sites.  Those that participate in this rite are part of a relatively new Mexican religious phenomenon that has drawn its ideas from all of the world's religions.  They believe God is universal and has certainly acted among all peoples on earth, hence there are valid religious ideas in all of the worlds traditions!  They have no name for their movement, but others needing a name for them call them "La Mexicanidad."  Those that want to put them down -- especially church authorities -- call them "new agers".  They dress completely in white and often meet at archeological sites.  Some will also wear a red bandana around their forehead.

It was common for Teotihuacan to draw a million visitors dressed in white on March 21.   When Juarez's birthday became one of the holidays observed on a Monday, it became hard for the employed to welcome spring midweek. Such was the case this year when visitors dressed in white at Teotihuacan on Thursday were counted in only the tens of thousands.

That same day, I was at Xochicalco -- Morelos' most visited archeological site.  The white clothing of those welcoming spring contrasted with the black banner they held expressing their protest against Esperanza Resources Corporation's intention to initiate open pit mining on the hill adjacent to that UNESCO World Heritage site 

One often hears the expression, “Easter is coming early this year.”  But, the timing of both Lent and Holy Week are far from random.   They, too, are events determined by the Spring Equinox.  

Resurection Sunday (Easter) is the first Sunday, after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.  Jewish Passover is also linked to the Spring Equinox. It cannot occur until after the equinox.  This year Passover will be celebrated March 25-April 2.  

So, in 2013 events are happening in quick succession.   Yesterday was the beginning of Passover, tomorrow the moon will be full.  Sunday will be Easter.  Those who follow the Mexicanidad have already had their equinox celebration but many of them will also participate in Passover or Semana Santa.  Even the young tourists, celebrating in the sun at Caribbean resorts may take time from their revelry to observe these sacred holidays. 

Just as the arrival of "los spring breakers" is set by school calendars, so is the travel frenzy in Mexico that is going on this week and next.  All of Mexico is on the same school calendar which is enjoying a two-week vacation.  Wouldn't it be better for the tourism industry, as well as for vacationers, if Mexico's Secretariat of Public Education staggered the two-week vacation?

Regardless of how you celebrate these first days of Spring, don't miss the majestic beauty of the purple flowered jacaranda trees lining Mexico's streets and highways.  

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