Calenda, Valdeflores. Photo: Ernesto J. Torres
Calenda, Valdeflores.

Saint’s Day Fiestas in Colotepec

Photos: Ernesto J. Torres

Wherever there is a saint’s day celebration in Colotepec, there you will find Gil López López, the parish priest of Nuestra Sra. De los Pobres (Our Lady of the Poor). That church, located in colonia Lázaro Cárdenas, is the seat of a parish that covers 76 communities in the municipios of Santa María Colotepec and Santa María Tonameca. Fifty of these communities have chapels.

Gil López
López. Photo: Ernesto J. Torres
The patron saint of Río Valdeflores is Saint Cristopher. On July 8, Gil López López, the parish priest of Colotepec and Tonameca, celebrated the mass that began three days of festivities for the patron saint of this community.

One cannot overestimate the importance of the saint’s day celebrations in the lives of the inhabitants of each community. The 3 or 4 days of the fiesta require months of planning and fund raising. There must be at least one band. There will be fireworks, maybe a castillo (a tower of fireworks). There will also be a jaripeo rodeo and cockfights. Most importantly for the young people, there will be one or two nights bailes populares (dance parties.)

Valdeflores. Photo: Ernesto J. Torres
Valdeflores has a population of 210, according to the 2010 census. This includes the 12 members of the local band, here seen participating in the mass before the calenda.

The fiestas always begin with a mass celebrated by the parish priest, followed by a calenda – a procession through the streets, starting at the church, that includes a brass band and women and children dancing in traditional dress. And there will be canasteras, women dancing with heavy baskets of flowers balanced on their heads.

Normally the fiesta lasts for three days, with one or sometimes two masses on each day. Day 1 is the calenda, day 2, the vispera, and on day 3, the mass for the saint. In some communities, there is yet another mass, on day 4, called the culmination.

With 50 communities celebrating their patron saints, sometimes 5 on the same day, as with the Virgen of Guadalupe, Father Gil keeps very busy, especially since most of the fiestas take place in the winter. He also celebrates mass at each of the communities once a month. These services are mostly just attended by older women.

Father Gil credits the Church and the annual fiestas for strengthening social ties in local communities, many of which are new and have been formed by people from other parts of Oaxaca. The 41-year-old priest is a native of Sta. María Yuchuili, a municipio near Tlaxiaco in the Mixtec region of Oaxaca. Before coming to Puerto four years ago, he served as a priest in Pinotepa de Don Luis and Pinotepa Nacional. He also served three years in Madrid.

Fiesta of Saint Mary of the
Poor on February 14 in Lázaro Cárdenas. Photo: Ernesto J. Torres
Fiesta of Saint Mary of the Poor on February 14 in Lázaro Cárdenas.

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