Viernes de Delores | Mexico | Living in Mexico

Viernes de Delores

On my walk yesterday morning, I ran across people selling purple and white decorations for an upcoming holiday.


Others were selling wheat sprouts.


(Note that some of the plants are growing in cut off soft drink bottles, the default container in these parts. If you've got nothing else, use a plastic coke bottle.)

This woman is selling bitter oranges and herbs. All of this stuff: purple and white paper and ribbon, oranges, herbs, and wheat sprouts, has symbolic meanings.


These materials are being used to build altars for Viernes de Delores (the Friday of Our Lady of Sorrows); altars like this decorated fountain.


The holiday commemorates the Virgin Mary's sorrow at the torture and killing of Jesus—a difficult notion for me to comprehend. In San Miguel, a sculpture known as El Señor de la Columna is central to the Samana Santa events. It is one of the most horrifying images imaginable.


Altars constructed for this day often include agonized figures like this one, and grieving images of Mary.


Some memorials are very elaborate. This one, built against the wall of the Biblioteca Pública, includes a brass band playing dirges.


Families build beautiful displays and offer refreshments to those who come to view their work. This one includes a figure of Christ, jailed and guarded by two centurions.


Some altars are simply exquisite. This is a famous one, built by the family of Rubén Pérez. It is located just a few houses away from mine on Aldama. It includes precious antique figurines.


Visitors stand in front of each altar for many minutes, perhaps in prayer, perhaps meditating, or maybe just drinking in all the beauty. This one is built on the Aldama fountain, one of San Miguel's landmarks.


In general, the mood of visitors was incongruously festive. Except for a few moments in reflection followed by crossing themselves, people spent most of the time chatting with neighbors, eating paletas (popsicles) offered by their hosts while their kids ran around shouting and squealing, like kids will do on major holidays when school's out.

The altars I've shown so far are all located in wealthy neighborhoods. I felt more at home in working-class areas, where displays were more modest and welcomes were warmer.

A party rental business seems a good a place as any for an altar.


Viewings and visits went on until early the next morning.


By the end of it all, this family was dead on its feet. But they offered me a glass of orange juice with a smile.

Viernes de Delores is not really about mourning. It's a demonstration of perfect democracy, when wealthy and poor alike host one another and participate in common religious acts. It is a night when people greet one another, renew old friendships, make new ones, and revel in a powerful sense of community.