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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mexico: Burning Judas Effigies in San Cristobal

I found a place to stand in the crowd, behind a bush that I could see over but locals found a little challenging. I'm not that tall, but the city was crowded with indigenous Maya, and they are quite short.

I could see the straw figures that had been dragged into place, waiting to be ignited. But first there were speeched and introductions, all in Spanish, of course. I couldn't follow much of it, but these things are really all the same, everywhere in the world. Part of the program was the introduction of all the women who had ridden by on floats the day before, each the queen of something. One of the things I like about the parades had been that the queen of the whole festival was not a young beauty, but an older woman.

Earlier I had been a little worried about the fires and how close we were allowed, but when the fire and rescue truck pulled up, I relaxed. Then I unrelaxed. The firefighters who brought the truck regarded it as an opportunity to give their friends and families a good seat for the burning. People were perched all over the truck, and it was effectively out of commission.

When the burning began, with one effigy at a time lit following a short speech labeling the type of devil that would be purged when the straw figure, called a Judas, burned. I have since read that this traditional ritual is frequently, and mistakenly, regarded as anti-Semitic. There was no mistaking it here. An American woman standing next to me translated the cursing of Jews and Israel. I was pretty horrified that this is considered OK, and normal, to say the least. I know that for most of its history the Catholic Church has blamed the Jews for the crucifixion of Christ, but this wasn't any old leftover teaching, but a verbal attack on modern Juadaism.

I din't last much after that. Not only was the whole thing tainted, but large flakes of burning paper and straw were raining down on everyone. I got a stinging, very mild burn on my arm. I left.

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