If there ever was a festival-embracing, party-loving town that celebrates with especially enthusiastic fanfare, San Miguel is the place. Some festivals are deeply religious, others are wildly patriotic, while a few are fantastical and mildy insane – and most involve extensive fireworks displays. Many take place or culminate at the Jardin – the heart of the town adjacent to the pink-spired El Parroquia church.
EL SEÑOR DE LA CONQUISTA (THE LORD OF THE CONQUEST) – EARLY MARCH
Shaking rattling shells on their legs, hundreds of colorful conchero or “Chichimeca” dancers with elaborately feathered headdresses step to hypnotic drum beats in this festival to celebrate Christ’s time on earth. Dancers come from different neighborhoods of San Miguel, villages in the surrounding area and all over Mexico in costumes that resemble those worn by the great Aztec, Mayan and Toltec warriors of the past. After parading to the Parroquia, they dance in honor of its statue of Christ of the Conquest and recite 33 prayers – one for each year of Christ’s life.
SEMANA SANTA / EASTER
On Easter, effigies originally meant to represent Judas Iscariot – but now more often comical characters, unpopular politicians, and public personalities – are filled with firecrackers and rocket engines and strung up in the square. When they’re lit, the effigies spin like crazy and eventually blow up as children race around to get a piece. But look out for children bearing Easter eggs – shops sell confetti-filled versions that children are expected to crack over people’s heads. The pageantry for this holiest of times has deep meaning to those involved and great beauty for observers. The week before Easter, a shrine accompanied by priests, alter boys, and brass bands is carried from church to church and as Easter Sunday approaches, the processions increase.
LA FIESTA DE LOS LOCOS – JUNE
You don’t need to know Spanish to know what loco means – completely crazy – and that’s what this parade celebrating the Festival of Saint Anthony of Padua specializes in. Find a spot on the street to watch groups of locals called Cuadros (like New Orlean’s Mardi Gras Krewes) march past in extravagant handmade costumes. Some costumes are beautiful, others grotesque, and many simply outrageous. Somehow there’s always one group wearing cowboy boots with pointy tips so long they almost hit the wearer in the chin. It’s a cacophony of bands playing and flatbed trucks broadcasting raucous music while costumed celebrators throw candy to onlookers.
EL GRITO DE INDEPENDENCIA/MEXICAN INDEPENDENCE DAY – SEPTEMBER 15
In San Miguel, just like in every city around the country, the Mexican Independence Day celebrations culminate in “EL Grito de Dolores.” At 9:30 pm the mayor stands on a balcony ( in this case the second floor of Ignacio Allende’s family home), reading a proclamation of freedom… and every few minutes, the crowd below responds by shouting “Viva!” This is followed by three cheers of “Viva Mexico!”, at which time the bells in the churches ring and an extraordinarily lavish batch of fireworks fills the sky.
ALBORADA – CELEBRATING THE PATRON OF SAN MIGUEL – LAST FRIDAY OF SEPTEMBER
Patron Saint Michael the Arcangel apparently knew how to party hearty. The town festival in his name is an all-night fiesta that starts around midnight when four processions representing the four communities that formed San Miguel start their march. Each has its own brass band and a gigantic paper maché star that’s illuminated with candles. As the revelers gather steam, the bands play faster and faster until everyone reaches the Jardin around 3:30am. Shortly thereafter, giant flaming torches are carried through the crowd and onto a platform and fireworks and bottle rockets explode over the Jardin.
DAY OF THE DEAD/ DIA DE MUERTOS – NOVEMBER 1 AND 2
San Miguel throws a two-day celebration for this sacred and profane holiday that is dedicated to loved ones who have died. Shops and vendors sell sugar skulls and all kinds of lavish skeleton-themed treats and decorations, and the flower booths in the market are packed with marigolds and other flowers used to decorate alters. If you are lucky enough to be in a private home, you might see an alter with candles, photographs, and offerings of foods and drinks to honor the dear departed. Face painting booths are set up in the Jardin for children and adults – you’ll see women sporting pretty designs or half-skulls on their faces, while men choose the scary or debonair.
Navidad in San Miguel is a time of great joy and color – with parades, feasts, concerts and decorations all over town. A giant Christmas tree and tiny white lights adorn the Jardín, piñatas hang in windows, and bright red poinsettias line window ledges and doorways. Las Posadas processions, to symbolize Mary and Joseph’s search for a room at an Inn, take place in the days leading up to Christmas and there is a sweet nativity scene in the Jardin with live animals. Passion plays, called Pastorelas mix spirituality and satire and are another Christmas highlight — Bellas Artes regularly hosts an especially good one.
NEW YEAR’S EVE
While you can always book a special dinner at a local restaurant, the celebratory scene in the jam-packed Jardin on this most festive night of the year is not to be missed. Mariachis stroll, food vendors sell all kinds of delicious sweet and savory treats, and balloons and giant sparklers decorate the scene as families stroll and socialize. When midnight finally arrives there is an incredible fireworks display over the spires of the Parroquia.
SAN MIGUEL WRITER’S CONFERENCE & LITERARY FESTIVAL
As the largest and most prestigious bi-lingual literary gathering in the Americas, this festival attracts distinguished authors, established and emerging writers, industry experts, teaching professionals and avid readers from the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Europe. It’s now a five+ day gathering of thousands.
Laura Sutherland is a travel writer based in California who travels regularly to Mexico. You can follow her at WanderandTaste.