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THE END OF THE YEAR
ABOUT the close of October, Juanita was invited with her parents to a wedding. This momentous incident had been discussed by all the families in all its bearings for weeks before. The groom-elect had graduated from the military academy and was a captain in the regular army, by the name of Manuel Viesca. In the most approved fashion he had been courting Mercedes for some months, calling at the house and being duly accepted.
Early in the month he went to the Civil Register and declared his intentions, and two weeks later, on the 20th of the month, he and Mercedes, with three witnesses, presented themselves for the civil marriage.
The civil marriage in Mexico costs nothing if had at the Civil Register. If the judge goes to the house the fee averages twelve pesos, but the amount is optional.
Before this civil rite is performed there are fifteen days of probation. The names of the bride and groom elect are posted on a bulletin so that anybody having satisfactory reasons may oppose the ceremony.
But it was the religious ceremony to which Juanita had been invited. This was held in the little Church of La Divina Infanta, and was witnessed by about fifty or sixty friends.
It was a bright, beautiful day that greeted the young couple. Mercedes Silva, the bride, was a tall, pretty girl, a semi-brunette. Her veil was arranged with great care and flowed from underneath a bunch of orange blossoms. She carried an ivory prayer-book and rosary, the gift of the groom.
The bride entered first on the arm of her father, followed by the bridegroom and his mother. Then followed the group of padrinos, the godmother and godfather in each case.
When the party got just inside the door of the church, the priest met them, attired in a beautiful costume of cloth of gold, and put the first question to them as to whether they wished to marry each other. Then the party went up and knelt together below the altar at prie-dieus, the priest offering the prayer. Then he gave two rings of gold to the groom, one to be put on the finger of the bride and the other on his own.
Some more questions were asked and the groom handed the bride thirteen coins, gold pesos, which she gave to the priest. They proceeded closer to the altar, where they knelt about half an hour while the priest prayed and there was some very fine orchestral music.
While they were thus kneeling another priest took part of the bridal veil and put it over the groom, and then placed a silver chain over both the parties. Then the officiating priest blessed them and they marched out of the church.
Thence they rode in a carriage to a photograph establishment to have their pictures taken, which is quite the thing in Mexico, after which they held an informal reception at the home of the bride’s parents. The servants brought in copitas, or drinks, and then there was a big dinner. Afterward there was dancing.
To witness a wedding was a new experience to Juanita, and it was no wonder that she greatly enjoyed telling Sarita and Rosa about it afterward. It furnished a subject of conversation for them for weeks to come,— in fact until they began to get ready for the Christmas festivities.
In the days of Sarita Anna and President Guadalupe Victoria, Christmas was celebrated by the Mexicans with much more ceremony than to-day. Cannon were fired by the government at sunrise and sunset and at high noon, as they are fired to-day on the birth of some earthly prince. Processions went through the streets of Mexico with government officers and the military in full uniform and led by the archbishop and the clergy and canons of the cathedral.
Now Christmas Day is one of the most quiet days in the year and is solemnly but sedately observed in the churches. All the excitement of the season centralizes about the posadas and the pinatas, that precede this day of days.
In fact, there is less observance of the posadas than in former years. The original posadas4wene supposed to be religious in their character or nature, but of recent years the tendency has been to relaxation in the religious observance, the children being so anxious for the breaking of the piñata. Therefore, in 1894, the archbishop forbade the posadas. However, the observance is too Mexican in its character to be easily set aside, especially in homes where the Catholic mandate is not taken seriously.
They were the delight of the children. Every night the children gathered in the corridors of their own homes or in their patios for this fun-making.
The patios were all illuminated and decorated with lanterns and flowers, especially with the brilliant poinsette on crimson flower, which is of bright red colour.
The children marched around the corridors, each holding a lighted candle and singing “Ora pro nobis,” which is adapted from the Loretto ritual. They went round and round from room to room, stopping at each door and singing their little song. The song described the journeyings of Joseph and Mary looking for a room.
The groups of children were repulsed from one room to another as the Holy Family was repulsed in Bethlehem. Finally, they reached one of the rooms which was opened to them. The little figures which they carried representing the Holy Family were then placed by the children in some corner and forgotten till the next evening and they began the fun of the piñata.
As formerly observed, the ceremonies in connection with the posadas began nine days before Christmas Day.
This year, instead of each family having a celebration by itself the Jiminez and Ortiz families accepted the invitation of Señora Alvarez to join with them in the day’s festivities.
In Mexico Christmas is different from the old-time Christmas of Hans Christian Andersen, or from the Christ-time as observed in the United States and in Europe.
There is no snow, except on the big volcanoes sixty miles away, and therefore there are no sleigh-bells or harnessed reindeer in the air.
Until the comfort of fireplaces and open hearths was brought by the Americans, these were not known in Mexico, and there were no chimneys. Consequently, there was no way for Sarita Claus to enter the houses.
In American homes, however, Sarita Claus has been welcomed for the past fifteen years, and Mexico now knows something about Christmas trees, hungry stockings, mistletoe branches, and all the witchery of Christmas as known to its northern neighbours.
But Mexico has plenty of flowers always, and during the days before Christmas Rosa and her two girl friends decorated her home exquisitely. Panchito assisted in this work, for a boy is handy when there are nails to be driven and decorations to be put up.
The preparation of the piñata was the special work of Señora Alvarez, though it is fair to say that both Senoras Jiminez and Ortiz had a hand in it.
A jar of clay was dressed in the shape of a great doll and decorated with coloured papers, and filled with candies and toys. The night before Christmas, after Rosa and Panchito were asleep, it was hung in the centre of the sitting-room.
Bright and early Christmas morning Sarita and Carlos and little Maria and Juanita, with their parents, put in an appearance at the Alvarez home. The little house was pretty well filled, but if there was a slight lack of room, there was no want of hospitality and good cheer.
After all had gathered, there was no waiting for the all-important ceremony, for the children were anxious to break the piñata.
EACH BOY AND GIRL HAD THREE CHANCES TO HIT THE PIÑATA”
They were blindfolded in turn, and each boy and girl had three chances to hit the piñata with a stick.
First Carlos took his turn. What shouts all set up as he once, twice, three times, vainly beat the air with his stick.
Strange as it may seem, the children all failed in their first trial to break the piñata. Then they began over again with little Maria, who, with a good deal of giggling and dancing, was blindfolded once more. Juanita turned her around several times and said, “Now strike hard.”
With a mighty effort Maria swung around her arm, and hit — nothing!
Again she turned a little, and again struck out and hit — nothing!
A third time she moved, and, carefully swinging the stick far over her head, hit the piñata squarely in the middle, and scattered its contents all over the room.
With much shouting and laughing the children made a scramble for the good things spread around, and for an hour or more there was plenty of fun in undoing mysterious packages. The rapturous exclamations at the revelation of their contents amply repaid for all the labour and trouble the affair had cost the older members of the different families.
Not until very late that evening did the party break up, but finally all went to their own homes, and tired young folks soon forgot their weariness and excitement in the land of dreams.
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