Revelry Bringing in the New Year
In the village of Ocumicho, Michoacán, the party literally takes to the streets on January 2nd. Dancers don masks with ribbons and tinsel trailing behind, then lead the entire village on a merry journey to gather "treasures" from the households-of-honor on this day.
Not only are there "Negritos", the dark-masked ones, but playful diablosmore clownish than devilishand a full band loudly brings up the rear.
The parade winds through the streets stopping at the homes of former directors of the fiesta, and the homes of fiesta patrons. To be named director is a position of great honor and responsibility. The director guards the masks and costumes throughout the year, conducts months of rehearsals, and ensures that the chants, songs, and dance steps are performed exactly according to tradition, unchanged. The patrons have contributed hugely, each in their own way, monetarily and by feeding hundreds of hungry performers, and by repairing and sewing elaborate costumes.
Once at the thresh hold of an important house, all gather to beseech the patron for treasure. Dancers announce the group's arrival, shouting to the head of the household to come forward. The band plays music as the Negritos and diablos conduct a merry jig, and the entire village cheers them on with delight.
While the streets outside are full of music, laughter, and boisterous dancing, busy preparations are underway in the respective homes. Bushels of tangerines and peanuts are divided into basket after basket to appease the crowds. The women excitedly wait inside, not daring to step forward until summoned.
Some households comically taunt the procession, withholding "treasure" until the dancers are exhausted. Dancers and band must perform again and again, "con gusto". At last, gifts of tangerines, sweets, and roasted peanuts are grasped in a wild frenzy as if gold coins were being shared.
Each member of the procession comes prepared with several market bags, all the better to carry as much as possible. By the end of the day, many can barely lift what has been gathered but no one minds this happy burden.
From young to old, bringing in the New Year in Ocumicho requires the work and participation of everyone. From the director, to the patrons, the priest, the dancers, and the supporting cast of an entire village, the New Year properly begins with a nod to past traditions and a strong sense of community for the future.
Viva Ocumicho! Feliz año!
Written December 27, 2004 in loving
memory of ~
Natividad Quiroz died in May 2004~
By Debra Hall