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FEASTS AND FLOWERS
THE religious ceremonies of Lent were faithfully observed by Juanita’s parents. Consequently she, too, was true to the training she had received. On Palm Sunday, in company with her friends, she carried to church palm leaves that had been plaited in various designs, to have them blessed by the priest. These were afterward fastened to the balconies, doors, bedsteads, and other places at home to keep off evil spirits.
On Good Friday Juanita went with her parents to the great cathedral, where the archbishop officiated before an immense crowd.
On the same day, in the suburban towns of Ixtapalapa, Atzcapotzalco, and Coyoacan there were processions in the yards of the country churches, where highly decorated and grotesquely dressed men and women marched in stately order, bearing a huge cross, and reenacted, in crude fashion, the scene of Calvary. Years ago men, taking the role of Jesus, were crucified, and some even died under the torture, but the government put a stop to that, and the laws of reform no longer allow external religious rites. The processions are therefore confined to the churches and to the church yards.
The noisiest day in the year for Mexican children is Holy Saturday, the last day of Lent, just preceding Easter Sunday. At ten o’clock that day the Judases are exploded and the church-bells ring out after their silence of two days and a half.
That they might enjoy this day together, Juanita invited her girl friends, Rosa and Sarita, to come and sit upon her balcony, where they would get a good view of the street.
Carlos and Panchito went upon the street and joined in the sports with other boys and men. During the day the girls got many a glance and an answering wave of the hand from them.
Along the sidewalks ran many small boys dragging their matracas, or little carts with pieces of wood fitting into the spokes of the wheels. These were grating and grinding all day long.
The popular feature of the day was the bursting of the Judases. These figures, impersonating the Iscariot, were made of pasteboard, and all sorts of human and inhuman figures were represented. Some had the faces of animals and birds, but the idea was to have them as hideous as possible. Along the arms or legs or wings, as the case might be, were tubes of gunpowder with fuses. When the latter were lighted the whole grotesque creation went up in smoke with loud noises. The louder the noise the more keen the satisfaction and the pleasure of the people, for they were thus avenging the treachery of Judas toward Jesus.
In some parts of the city the effigies were hung across the streets and from the balconies of the aristocratic houses, filled with toys and small coin, for which big and little wildly scrambled.
To the young American girls, Grace and Louise, who watched the fun from a balcony of their hotel, it seemed more like a celebration of the Fourth of July than a religious occasion. Easter Sunday was quietly observed, for the people were well-nigh spent by the observance of preceding days.
In the cathedral the services were signalized by grand music, the lighting of the huge paschat candle, and the removal, for the first time since the forty days of Lent, of the girandole from its position. The paschal candle burned constantly until the expiration of the forty days following Easter. Flowers, candles, and incense were profusely employed. The vestments of the clergy were radiant with gold and precious stones, and many of the sacred vessels used on the altars were reserved especially for the Easter festivities. The high altar was decked with ornaments of gold, and the sermons dealt with the resurrection of Jesus.
Aside from the religious services, the day itself was one of the brightest in Mexico, and every one strove to appear in his or her best.
During Easter week Juanita and her friends gave and received presents and dulces.
Some months later Juanita called upon Rosa one morning, and asked her if she would not like to go to the flower-market with her.
“Why, yes, indeed I would,” said Rosa.
“But why are you going there to-day?”
“I want to get some flowers to decorate one of the altars in the cathedral for the feast of the Assumption, and I should very much like to have your help.”
“Why not invite Sarita to go, too?” asked Rosa. “She has splendid taste in the arrangement of flowers.”
“All right, we will,” answered Juanita.
With this purpose in view, they called at Sarita’s home, but found she was so busy helping her mother on some drawn-work, for which some customers were in a hurry, that she could not go with them.
The flower-market is situated close by the great cathedral, and thither the two girls hastened.
It was a brilliant, beautiful scene, — flowers to right, flowers to left, flowers all around. The immense wreaths of pansies and daisies were displayed effectively by the flower-boys. Great masses of white flowers of all kinds formed a splendid background for the bunches of red and blue and yellow.
“Buy roses?” asked a piping voice at Juanita’s elbow.
Juanita looked around and beheld a smiling brown lad not over eight years old, holding toward her a great bunch of splendid American Beauties.
“How much are they?” she asked.
“Ten centavos each.”
As Juanita turned away the boy ran after her.
“I let you have them, señorita, for eight centavos.”
But Juanita was not to be persuaded by the insistent boy. American Beauties were not what she wanted this morning, even though they could be purchased for a song.
By this time all the flower-boys in the market had discovered the girls’ presence, and there was a rush at them with great bunches of all kinds of flowers.
It was hard work for Juanita to make her selection, but finally, with the help of Rosa, she managed to choose what she wanted and rid herself of the boys she did not care to patronize. This took some time, for the flower-sellers all asked at first more than they expected to get for their wares, and Juanita knew it; so she had to pretend not to be anxious to buy until they came down to a reasonable price.
The girls next took their flowers into the cathedral, where Rosa was of much assistance to Juanita in decorating the altar which was her share in preparing for the feast. Many other girls were at work in different parts of the edifice, and a splendid time they all had. When they got through, the place looked like an enchanted land in its profusion of flowers.
Among Juanita’s former schoolmates was a young cadet at the military academy. The academy is attached to the Castle of Chapultepec. One day in September he invited Juanita and her friends to visit the institution.
The trip was very much enjoyed. It was explained to the visitors that the military academy was founded in 1824 by General Guadalupe Victoria, the first President of the Mexican Republic. In 1847 the Americans stormed and captured the castle, which was defended by the cadets, an incident fittingly commemorated on the 8th of September. On the 30th of May, Memorial Day, their monument is always decorated by a committee from the American colony. The academy was reopened in 1863, but closed on account of the war with France. Finally, under the decree of President Juarez, it was opened in 1869. There are now about 250 cadets.
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