Calendas, Monos and Marmotas

If you've got a family wedding coming up, celebrate it Oaxacan style
If you've got a family wedding coming up, celebrate it Oaxacan style

“Let’s go check out the party,” Magellan said to Karol, Gail and me on a Saturday afternoon in Oaxaca, a brass band, firecrackers and happy voices making a noise down the street.

We were witnessing a Calenda, a Mexican public procession, a joyful parade that brings people together to celebrate major holidays, baptisms, protests, basically, anytime there’s a major event in people’s personal lives or in the community. In our two weeks in Oaxaca, we saw a Calenda de Boda, a wedding parade that Saturday afternoon, and a Calenda de Graduación for civil engineers.

There are two ways to know it’s a calenda. High above the people in the parade, you’ll see a large spinning ball, usually imprinted with the names of the people involved (say the bride and groom) or the occasion (like All Saints’ Day). This oversized ball is a marmota.

It’s accompanied by monos de calenda (monkeys of the procession), males or females, sporting papier-mâché puppet heads, dancing and swaying to the music of the calenda band. Frequently, the monos portray the people being commemorated, monos resembling the bride and groom, or the school administraton. The monos are part piñata (the head) and part fireworks storage (the body).

Mezcal is typically drank by those dancing in the calenda. (It’s the only time that drinking is allowed in the streets.)

Remember those progressive dinner parties we used to go to the 70s? A calenda stops at various points along the route where more drinks and food are shared. Have a look, too, at the chinas, female dancers wearing typical costumes and balancing baskets of flowers on their heads.

As the calenda proceeds, more and more people join in. The monos lead the party to a public space, a plaza, or a square near a cathedral, a place where everyone can gather to celebrate with more food, music, dancing, drinking and gift-giving. Firecrackers pop and sizzle, adding to the mayhem. The party ends with a loud and colourful display of fireworks. 

Even if you’re not part of a calenda, it seems there’s a street party in Oaxaca every night.

What a joyous way to strengthen community, friendships and personal ties. And show outsiders, like us, another way to be ensorcelled (don’t you love the sound of that word?) by the culture of Oaxaca.

17 Responses

  1. We had THE BEST few days in Lisbon and a great deal
    of it thanks to you and Kerry !! I think we may be developing a travel bug and look forward to following more of your suggestions.. very much !

  2. Brings back fond memories of wedding celebrations in small town Saskatchewan and Alberta. A Community Hall, local band and all ages in attendance. Of course I remember the Crystal Springs Hotel/Bar.

    1. Yeah! In addition to weddings, there was always a Fall Supper and Dance, a New Year’s Party and often another community dance in the spring or summer.

  3. Nice to see the dancing in celebration of a private or community event, I think this has been lost in Canada.

      1. Now that’s the truth!
        A wedding in Good Soil always a cause to celebrate!

        Love Mexico and all she has to offer..

      1. I grew up in downtown Toronto and then the suburbs in Canada’s ‘motown’ area, and we danced up a storm several times per week. I don’t know if it was ancient ancestral wisdom or just a coincidence spontaneously arising from the confluence of recording technology, stereo systems that weren’t yet glued in people’s ears, and too many boisterous kids in a house that needed a thorough cleaning and organizing every day at 5pm if my parents hoped to stay out of an asylum.

        So naturally, even though it isn’t Harry Belafonte or Rossini or Henry Mancini we’re hearing here, Oaxaca is pretty easy to adapt to.

        It’s worth adding that i am sensitive to noise and this is the second noisiest of the fifteen countries i’ve tried to sleep in. I can handle noise as long as it registers in my brain as happy, social noise.
        There is a lot of happy, social noise in Oaxaca.

    1. There are so many random surprises on the streets of Oaxaca, but every Wednesday evening in the Zocalo (town square) there is Miércoles de Danzón.

      “Danzón is a form of music and dance originating from Cuba. Now considered a national dance, modern Danzón emerged in the late 1800s. Originally the moves were considered scandalous because of the slow tempo and close proximity of partners. Eventually, the style experienced widespread acceptance as people of all ages and social standings took to it. Danzón is performed to a brass instrument band and does not feature lyrics. The music features an introduction of 4 bars followed by a paseo (promenade) of 4 bars and then a 16 bar melody (theme).” Fundación En Vía Stories

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