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Commotion for the Cross

Friday, May 3 is an important holiday for Mexico’s Roman Catholics and a big deal for the country’s construction workers.

pg9cIt is the date of Día de la Santa Cruz (Day of the Holy Cross), celebrated with great fervor in lakeshore communities, as elsewhere across the nation.

According to Christian legend, the date commemorates the discovery of fragments of the Holy Cross by Saint Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor Constatine the Great, in the tomb where Christ was buried. The holiday was removed from the liturgical calendar by Pope John XIII in 1960. That has not curtailed traditional festivities in this country.

Día de la Cruz is the feast day for Mexican masons and their crews. It is customary for them to erect crosses festooned with crepe paper streamers and flowers at the highest point of their building sites. In Chapala, that happens after the workmen take the cross for a blessing at the San Francisco parish.

Later on, construction crews gather at their workplaces for a day of unbridled communal feasting. They usually shoot off bundles of skyrockets all day long, often starting at midnight.

Another local May 3 tradition is for the faithful to join in processions to hilltops and street corners where permanent crosses standing out in the landscape are decorated and become focal points for prayer services.

Residents of Ajijic’s west side Barrio de Guadalupe are known for setting up doorstep altars with the cross as a centerpiece for displays laden with crates of seasonal fruits, assorted pantry goods and frosted loaves of tachihual bread. After sunset, the contents are free for the taking by anyone pledging to replace the bounty the following year. At the height of festivities, toritos—bamboo contraptions shaped like bulls and loaded with firecrackers—are ignited and raced by carriers among the crowd of celebrants.

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