San Miguel de Allende has an astounding number of fiestas and grand parades every year. One of my personal favorites is the tradition of El Dia de los Locos (translation....The Day of the Crazies), which is held the first weekend after the feast day of Saint Anthony of Padua on June 13th.
This unique parade originated in the 19th century as an expression of faith and devotion. Historical accounts suggest that during colonial times, San Miguel was surrounded by fields of orchards. The Franciscan friars, connected to the local monastery, had introduced the laborers to Saint Pascual Bailon, the patron saint of field workers. The friars began to hold a special celebration for the orchard workers as a way to honor San Pascual Bailon.
Today's Locos parade has its roots in the festivites and merriment of the original orchard workers' fiesta where the local people danced as a way to give thanks to God and San Pascual Bailon for the year's harvest and to ask for continued prosperity in the coming year. During the first fiesta, it is said that crowds of observers swarmed the dancers and in response, some of the early participants started to disguise themselves as scarecrows to keep the crowds at bay. The Sanmiguelenses began to call the dancers,"locos", a tradition that continues today.
As this parade grew and evolved, the dancers started to dress in not only scarecrow costumes but, other creatively conceived and constructed attire intended to represent beloved cartoon characters, local and national political figures, extra-terrestrials, devils, superheroes, animals, as well as parodies of famous people.
The present day spectacle involves hundreds of crazily clad dancers who gyrate and boogie to the frenetic music that blares from crazily ornamented parade floats stacked till bursting with loud speakers. The marchers fling candies as well as other sweet treats to the delighted throng of local children. In contrast, various jauntily clad brass bands march in military fashion along the parade route.
Let me share my experience of today's parade. I arrived rather early to insure that I had a ring side seat.... picture-taking was my top priority. I found a perch on the sidewalk, towards the end of the parade route, and proceeded to watch the crowd. (I would discover later that my husband had managed to find a prime spot atop a large wad of recently chewed bubble gum. Removing the gum from the sofa at home would prove to be quite a chore).There were countless strolling vendors who offered a variety of tasty goodies such as ice cream bars, homemade potato chips served with lime and hot sauce, pretzels, bolis (frozen popsicles),
strawberries and cream, and sodas. There were the usual children's pull-toy hawkers
and a new twist..... umbrella salesmen. These amiable fellows sold both brightly colored paper parasols and traditional cloth umbrellas.
I felt compelled to acknowledge their entrepreneurial spirit in anticipating the people's need for shade. Later, I would recognize that the umbrellas had a more important purpose. They were intended as a tool for catching the candy being jettisoned through the air by the enthusiastic parade walkers (an inverted umbrella is better than a catcher's mitt).....
or for some people the umbrellas served another even more important function.... specifically, the shielding of vital organs (this will all become clear in a minute.)
I started the event sitting next to my husband but, within half an hour, as the crowds swelled, two small children and a nursing mother with small baby in tow managed to squeeze between us. The ability to cram one's body into tight spaces is a special knack that the Mexican people have surely mastered.
The close proximity of the youngsters made the experience all the more delightful as their enchanted screams pierced the air. Avoiding being hit in the face with the flying candy became quite challenging and at one point, an airborne juice box managed to collide with my noggin. I wonder who thought throwing juice from the floats was a good idea?
Pointy Toed Boots, a phenomenon that I can't begin to explain
The dancers bobbed and weaved and, of course, sweated profusely under the weight of their costumes. Occasionally, a particularly proud dancer would stop for a picture taking session. The on-lookers eagerly cheered each group's passing and shouted "dulces, dulces" in hopes of being the happy recipients of some sweet treats.
The most curious aspect of the parade is the large volume of male participants who dress in women's clothing. This practice is quite common and the men seem to delight in cross-dressing. The more flamboyant the outfit, the happier they appear.
Mayhem, madness, and children's sticky fingers aside, el Dia de los Locos is a blast that shouldn't be missed.