MEXICO CITY (HPD) — With his velvet tunic on and his hat tight, Miguel Zadquiel only needs to put on his mask and hear the first beat of the drum to start dancing.
“For every sound he makes, I move my feet,” he says as if the music is already playing in his head. “Give a blow and I move one foot, the other. Or I turn around and move my shoulders. Everyone has their style.”
At 14 years old, Miguel is already a proud member of the “Brinco de fe” comparsa, a group of fifty dancers known as “chinelos” who from December 16 to 24 led a series of Catholic processions in Xochimilco, a neighborhood south of Mexico City.
The tour is part of the posada season, but in this area of the capital it fulfills an additional purpose: to celebrate the Niñopa, a representation of the baby Jesus that the residents esteem as their patron saint.
Posadas are a tradition in post-conquest Mexico. They are held for nine nights and on each one the devotees remember the pilgrimage of Joseph and Mary to seek refuge before the birth of Jesus.
To do this, a man and a woman dress up as the couple and make a pilgrimage accompanied by some neighbors while holding candles or sparklers. Upon arriving at a previously selected house, they knock on the door, exchange a song with those who are waiting inside, and after a few minutes they enter to celebrate the arrival of Jesus together.
In Xochimilco, the posadas involve all the senses. To the rhythm of the drum, clarinet and trumpet, one is tempted to dance while walking, like the members of Miguel’s comparsa. On the way, colored hats, balloons and streamers are distributed. The fireworks make their appearance unexpectedly and there is barely time to take out the phone to immortalize the moment.
“First time I come and I loved it. Everything is very happy, very happy,” says Donaldo López, a 25-year-old Mexican who lives in another neighborhood but joined the Niñopa inn at the invitation of his sister, who recently moved to Xochimilco.
At his side are two little girls who drop a handful of confetti on the street while their mother prepares her camera to photograph the celebrant, a wooden figure the size of a flesh and blood baby who today wears white.
No one knows for sure who carved the Niñopa, but it is believed to have been found near Xochimilco Cathedral after the Spanish conquest. To date it is considered miraculous and his devotees often pray to him when a family member is ill and they wait for him to recover.
“We have seen several stories about him on the internet and several acquaintances have told us things that he has done for them,” says Fernanda Mimila, 20. “It always happens to me and my family that when we see it up close or see it happen somewhere we feel the vibe and it makes us want to cry.”
Before, its devotees were allowed to carry it during the procession, but now it is carefully cared for. It is estimated that he is about 450 years old, so precautions are never too much.
It cannot be exposed to sunlight, camera flash or humidity, explains Abraham Cruz, whose family organized the sixth posada of this winter season. Behind him, in what appears to be the house’s garage, Niñopa looks smiling and calm from a kind of homemade altar as he begins the procession.
Having Niñopa at home is the honor of a lifetime. The respect and affection towards this representation of Jesus is transmitted from one generation to the next and organizing a posada in his name is so desired that it is requested decades in advance. Today’s party was assigned ten years ago, but the second of the season was committed 28 years ago, Abraham says.
Assuming this responsibility implies planning and saving, since the family that organizes the posada must pay for every last detail: from the balloons that float over the heads of the participants to the mass and the tacos that are offered to everyone who likes to be part of the celebration.
As in other neighborhoods in Mexico, in Xochimilco there is a “stewardship”, a family or group of people who are in charge of safeguarding some sacred image for the community. This role also takes decades to be assigned and when that happens, families allocate a space in their home for it.
During the nine posadas, the process is repeated day after day: the innkeepers chosen for the day pick up the Niñopa at the mayordomía, take him to a church where a mass will be celebrated, offer lunch in his honor, and then take him home. where other devotees visit him and wait for the nocturnal procession, which will conclude with his return to the mayordomía and the accompanying songs to María and José.
Thousands of people join the night walk. The couples hold hands. Grandchildren push their grandparents’ wheelchairs and parents hug their young children to warm them if they feel cold.
At the head of the procession the comparsa advances along with the music band. They are followed by María and José in disguise and, at the end, Niñopa, who for his protection travels comfortably and safely in a BMW van.
Dressed in pink like her little ones, Magda Reyes holds the hands of her seven and eleven-year-old daughters as she tells that she has attended the Niñopa inns since she was a child. “Xochimilco is very devoted to what he represents. My mother used to bring me (to the inns) and now I bring my daughters”.
For many, the most special night comes with the last posada, on December 24.
After the procession, near the couple representing Mary and Joseph, the attendees sing to lull the “child God”, as they affectionately call him. The town’s song is heard regardless of the fact that he is already inside the house and few can see him. It is a collective voice to remind him that he is loved and cared for, just as he gives them his blessing.
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