Celebrate Carnival With a Bang in Huejotzingo
Carnival only comes once a year, and every season since 1893, the town of Huejotzingo in Puebla has celebrated it with gusto. Thousands of locals don elaborate costumes with masks and rifles — all of which they typically make themselves, sometimes at great expense — and put on a huge parade. Some 20,000 tourists are expected to join the 2014 party, which starts Saturday (March 1) and continues through Fat Tuesday (March 4).
The roughly two-hour daily desfile commemorates three major events in local history: the first marriage of a person of Spanish descent to an indigenous Mexican; the kidnapping and rescue of the mayor’s daughter by a bandit named Agustín Lorenzo; and the famous Battle of Puebla against the French. You’re probably familiar with the latter, especially if you’ve ever celebrated Cinco de Mayo; it was the Mexicans’ brief victory here that led to the state and US holiday. To re-enact it all, various battalions—whose members represent Indians, sappers, Turks, Zacapoaxtlas, and Zouaves—parade through downtown, firing muskets loaded with gunpowder and moving to the beat of marching bands as they dance down the street. The smoke, noise, and inevitable injuries add realism to the scene. It gets so loud, many spectators wear earplugs.
“The costumes that characterize the different battalions are very luxurious and almost everyone wears a mask made of leather, with a beard and mustache of ruffled horse mane.” —Mexico Desconocido
Although Carnival is a major regional festival, last year I was among only a handful of apparent foreigners in the crowd. I went on Fat Tuesday in 2011 with eight students from the Spanish Institute of Puebla, where I studied for four months in 2007. We arrived around noon and opted to pay 15 pesos (about US$1.25) each to sit in the stands running along the main square. Aside from having to look around shade umbrellas and assorted vendors, who were selling everything from tepache (a drink made from fermented pineapple peel) to noisemakers (as if the rifles, music, and cheering weren’t sufficient), our seats were well worth the price. I even managed to dodge the assorted candy and snack cakes being thrown into the crowd during the wedding scene.
Afterward, we had dinner in a restaurant between the main square and the former monastery. Our guide, Gabriela, treated us to a bottle of the locally made hard cider, and I shared a paella with a French Canadian student named Luc. We also took a peek at the ex-Convento de San Francisco de Huejotzingo, which is perhaps the oldest in the region (built in 1525). The building is absolutely gorgeous outside, but the inside was closed to visitors during Carnaval, probably to keep gun-toting pranksters out. I’m hopeful that because Huejotzingo is close by — it’s where the Puebla airport is, about a 30-minute drive from Cholula — I’ll have a chance to go back again soon. —Rebecca Smith Hurd
Post updated on February 28, 2014