A full day of religious devotions, communal feasting and unbridled revelry will keep upper Ajijic’s Barrio de San Sebastián jumping on Sunday, January 20 as the neighborhood honors its twice-martyred patron saint.
The festivities start just after dawn when devotees congregate at the Rosario Chapel on the plaza to retrieve an antique statue of Saint Sebastian that is carried to a shrine at the corner of Emiliano Zapata and Marcos Castellanos for a 7 a.m. celebration of the mass.
Following the service, neighborhood families will set up tables and chairs to dish out a free breakfast of steaming menudo (tripe stew) for everyone present. A second communal meal is served around 2 p.m.
The celebration shifts into high gear around 4 p.m. as folks gather for a colorful procession to carry the image home again. The route runs east along Emiliano Zapata, south on Javier Mina to cross the highway and double back to the plaza via Guadalupe Victoria.
Spectators will see floats transporting a boy impersonating the saint and beauty queens representing the ancient legend of the
indigenous princess who bathed in El Ojo del Agua, the hillside natural spring that is said to have inspired the town’s name. Men from the barrio tote clay pots filled with feasting foods and long boards laden with round loaves of home-baked tachihual bread adorned with white frosting, red sugar sprinkles and candies. With a marching band marking the beat, masked Sayaca dancers join the cavalcade, pitching out confetti and flour as they chase down the gang of giggling youngsters who taunt them along the way.
Upon arrival at the chapel, the Sayacas keep up their antics just outside while the saint is lifted into his niche. The crowd then heads up Colon to regroup at the fiesta epicenter for an exuberant street party.
The throng mills about as homemade fruit punch laced with alcohol is dispensed to fuel up spirits until local matriarchs step up to the mike to croon a traditional song filled with humorous references to San Sebastián. The final chorus signals the start of the Papaqui, a frenzied mock battle in which hundreds of cascarones (decorated egg shells stuffed with confetti) are employed as harmless weaponry. Young, old and in-betweens scramble about and hoot while pelting one another as long as the egg supply lasts.
Once the skirmish ends, a live band takes the stage to crank out popular tunes for the street dance that will keep the barrio rocking well into the night.
Although the exact historical background of the local fiesta remains unknown, it goes back many generations, according to Irene Martínez Cervantes, the neighborhood elder credited with reviving this unique and dying village fiesta around 35 years ago. It bears many similarities to age-old festivities celebrated in Tuxpan, Jalisco and the Papaqui del Guerito San Sebastián held in Nochistlán de Mejia, Zacatecas. The papaqui, tachihual and revelers called Xayacates also figure into fiesta traditions in nearby Tlajolmulco de Zuñiga.
Saint sebastian, two-time martyr
Sebastian was a Roman captain of the Praetorian Guard who secretly converted many pagans to the Christian faith in the third century A.D. For that offense Emperor Diocletian ordered his execution by a cadre of ace archers. He survived the barrage of arrows and was nursed back to health by a Christian widow named Irene. Recovered from his wounds, Sebastian denounced Diocletian for his cruelty. The emperor retaliated by having him clubbed to death. Saint Sebastian is attributed with numerous miraculous healings and commonly invoked for protection against disease and plague.