Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Epiphany: Feast of Three Kings in Mexico

Town appeals to three kings in festival
By David Agren/Special to The Herald Mexico
El Universal

Martes 09 de enero de 2007
Eliseo Rojo, 70, has fished for tilapia and charales, a finger-size species, in the Laguna de Cajititlán since he was a teenager, although the father of 14 has seen better days

CAJITITLÁN, Jalisco - Eliseo Rojo, 70, has fished for tilapia and charales, a finger-size species, in the Laguna de Cajititlán since he was a teenager, although the father of 14 has seen better days.

He recalled fondly how he and his colleagues in the fishing village of Cajititlán, a town of approximately 8,000 residents near the Guadalajara airport, used to haul in tons of fish each day. A buyer from Toluca would come regularly for the catch. But nowadays the lake´s water level is around half its normal level and contamination from burgeoning development in the municipality of Tlajomulco is creeping in. On an average day, he now captures around 10 kilograms of fish.

"The lake used to have a lot more water. Lately, it´s been somewhat dry," he commented while waiting for passengers to climb into his boat, which was being used for sight-seeing tours last weekend. "There used to be a lot more fish."

Perhaps in search of divine intervention, the fishermen of Cajititlán took the three mesquite statues of the Santos Reyes (Holy Kings, or three wise men), the town´s patron saints, for a ride on Monday around the 5.5-square-mile lake. The tradition dates back to at least the 1930s in Cajititlán - and even further in Tlajomulco, where the first pastorelas, or live nativity plays, in colonial Mexico were performed in 1587.

But its not just the fishermen who appealed to the three kings.

Over the past nine days, pilgrims from across the region flocked to Cajititlán for the annual Día de los Reyes ("Three Kings´ Day") festivities. Some came to give thanks or receive a blessing; others to simply party or hawk products in the bustling market that filled the town´s main streets.

But the annual celebration - listed as the fourth biggest in Jalisco by local tourism officials - coincides with Jan. 6, the day most Mexicans cap off the Christmas season with family gatherings that include a rosca de reyes (the kings´ ring, a sweet bread) and giving toys to children.

Despite increased globalization and the importation of Santa Claus and Christmas trees, the Día de Reyes tradition is still strong in Mexico, and perhaps nowhere more than in Cajititlán.

"Cajititlán is the place where the tradition and the fiesta is concentrated," said José Hernández Martínez, a folk art historian at ITESO, a Jesuit university in suburban Guadalajara. According to Hernández, the Spanish introduced pastorelas as a means of evangelizing the indigenous population and found the reenactments to be highly effective.

"The images of the Santos Reyes have been well received in Mexico since the 16th century," he said.

Festivities in Cajititlán started in the 18th century and reputedly became notable in the early 1930s, when the statues of the kings suddenly surfaced after mysteriously disappearing. Rumors swirl as to how the ritual was performed, but no one knows for sure.

In the following decades, pilgrims converged on the town, making Cajititlán a major religious destination in Jalisco.

Salvador Alvarado, a former semi-pro soccer player from Guadalajara, journeys to Cajititlán every January. He broke his leg in three places seven years ago, but after asking for intervention, he recovered swiftly, something he attributed to the Santos Reyes.

"(Injuries) happened to other teammates ... but they didn´t end up doing very well," he recalled while sitting outside a tent he pitched next to the Santos Reyes parish.

"I had one operation and afterwards it was as if nothing had happened."

Despite the large number of religious pilgrims descending on Cajititlán, José Hernández Martínez said Día de los Reyes is "no longer a church holiday. It´s a civic holiday."

Octavio Pescador, a researcher at the University of California at Los Angeles concurred, adding, "There´s a sense of pluralism ... it´s a town event."

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