Sunday, April 12, 2009

Semana Santa in Michoacán

Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday) is the beginning of Michoacán's Easter/Holy Week celebration. For lovers of Mexican Arte Popular, there is no better place to be than at the Domingo de Ramos Concurso and Tianguis in Uruapan--the largest crafts fair in Latin America. And I was so happy to be there this year. I don't care for Uruapan and don't recommend you visit except on Palm Sunday, which in case you don't know is the week before Easter. But this event is unique. The concurso is a juried competition where large cash prizes are awarded to a few dozen artisans, and then the art-- the pieces that won plus the pieces that didn't-- is all for sale. The art gets better and better; museum quality pottery, copper, textiles and more. Both tourists and serious collectors were truly dazzled this year.

Then there's the tianguis, which is an Aztec word that basically means market, which runs for two weeks and is spread out across the two plazas in Uruapan. There you have a mixture of some cheap souvenir type stuff and some absolutely fantastic folk art and crafts offered by some of Mexico's great masters...who are there for you to meet.
(below) An artisan from San Jose de Gracias where they are famous for their clay pineapples.
Martina Navarro (right) is a master artist of Michoacan lacquerware called maque.

If you're there on Saturday morning the day before, there is a very cool parade of artisans from all the different pueblos. Potters often throw little clay pots to the crowd that lines the town's streets, and the appreciative crowd throws back confetti to honor the artists. It's a fun, feel good event.
Doug and I produced a video documentary back in 2004 on the Domingo de Ramos festivities for the Casa de las Artesanias, the event's sponsor.If you'd like to learn more, the DVD is available for cost on our website:

After shopping madness in Uruapan, I like to experience the religious side of the holidays and take in the Procesion de Silencio or Procesion de los Cristos -- which are solumn processions by candlelight through the streets of Morelia and Patzcuaro on Good Friday. You will see lots of Catholic rituals, which I don't fully understand, many of which appear to be unique to Mexico and its observance of Holy Week. Though one should be silent, picture taking is permitted.
Though thousands of Mexican families flock to the country's beaches, many head for Michoacan during Semana Santa. Patzcuaro, normally a pretty sleepy town except during Day of the Dead, was jumping this year on Good Friday. So if you go then, make sure you have a hotel reservation. I saw a number of folks looking for rooms to no avail. Patzcuaro also has its crafts booths lining the elegant Plaza Vasco de Quiroga, but it is smaller and less interesting than the one in Uruapan. Though there are lots of people--mostly Mexican tourists-- you can easily walk the cobblestone streets and enjoy all that picturesque Patzcuaro has to offer. Want to cool off and chill out? Head for the beach either before Palm Sunday or after Mexican vacationers go back to work. Then you'll have the water all to yourself.