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Party at Alcocer's Festival of the Cross
Party at Alcocer's Festival of the Cross

by Joseph Toone

As a good Catholic child I learned May was Mary’s month. But that is not not true here. Despite Mary's omnipresence, May firmly belongs to the cross. There are weekend fiestas before, during and after the month for the oldest and most venerated crosses around.

The cross was one of easier concepts of divinity for the conquering Spanish to teach the indigenous since they already believed the cross, an intersection of two lines, represents the meeting of the male and female, or the divine.

San Miguel has it's own festivals for the cross, at the Chorro (where the town started) and in the four oldest indigenous neighborhoods (La Palmita, Valle de Maiz, Guadiana, and Ojo de Agua.) But for the days leading up to May I led tours to the countryside to enjoy the festivals there. My favorite foray was to the picturesque ranch area of Alcocer, home to about 1200 locals.

Alcocer is behind the mall, on the yellow bus line that terminates in the Picachos Mountains, a hiker's paradise. The rancho is centered around the church to St. Nicholas, patron of children’s health and inspiration of Santa Claus. Oddly enough, his image in the church is the first I’ve seen of St. Nick not in red with white fur trim. (Once you find a style that works for you, why change?) Instead his image wears a star studded black cloak making him ready to be serve as a substitute teacher at Hogwarts.

Outside the church beside the old hacienda where Alcocer got his name lies an old grist wheel once used to squeeze the oil from olives. The hacienda was owned by a minor government official during the Inquisition named Juan de Alcocer. Juan was born here, so his opportunities were less than the Spanish born in Spain. On the hacienda, from 1618 to 1647 Juan raised mules for use in the Silver Route that transported Silver from the mines back to Spain. He also owned cattle haciendas outside of Mexico City and left all his haciendas to his wife in the mid 1600s. Today the hacienda lies in ruins and is owned by a gal from Louisiana who inherited it from her Mexican matador father following a lengthy court battle with her uncle.

The hacienda was a working one and not the home of the owners so there are no ruins of a majestic hacienda home. You can still see the storage areas and corrals. Local pigs, cows, horses and goats now gambol about the stone walls which are held together with mortar and memory.

My pal, Tony doesn’t understand my desire to photograph cows moving from field to field. But the cows in Hershey, PA where I grew up only moved their jaws, chewing cud to produce the milk for Hershey Kisses. I had no idea they could move about, much less so quickly.

Next to the ruins is the most intricately engineered water system I’ve seen in the area. A damn holds the water in the upper lake that when full overflows via a waterfall to the lower lake. Only in the dry season can one see the cross hidden behind the waterfall.

Next to the lake is the largest tree I’ve seen in the area, on par with the one in La Huerta, known to be one of the oldest in Mexico. This tree is constantly hacked at to allow room for overhead wires but is still alive. Folks love to pose by the tree.

Up in the mountains you’ll see two blue crosses on white stands. One is the Cross of the Crops, and the other, is the Cross of Rain. Both were in their decorated splendor for the May third celebrations. I’ve often wondered why the crosses seen along the Silver Route have a white base and blue cross. I assumed like the cloistered nuns in town who wear the same colors, it was homage to the Virgin Mary’s Immaculate Conception. It is not. A local woman pointed out the obvious to me, a more practical reason, the bases had to be white to be seen amongst the green and brown crops and cacti.

Every good party starts with a mass. Following that the local teen boy mariachi band started to play and dance in a unison the Gladys Knight and the Pips would have admired. Then the cowboys lead the procession into the mountains. Then the dozens of local crosses that have been blessed could leave the church and the party could begin.

Food and games (including stripping to your skivvies to climb up a greased pole to collect prizes including fashion and tequila) were followed by music and, of course, cross shaped fireworks. It was a spectacular way to start the month of May.

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Joseph Toone is Amazon's bestselling author of the San Miguel de Allende Secrets series of books and TripAdvisor's best rated historical walking tour guide. For more information contact toone.joseph@yahoo.com or visit History and Culture Walking Tours or JosephTooneTours.com, also on FaceBook.

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