On Friday night, Mexico City threw a party on its 14-acre Zócalo and about 500,000 people showed up. Back home, a party with that human density would equate to about 2,000 people in our little house. I would hate to think about cleaning the bathroom the next morning.
The big party celebrates “El Grito de Dolores”, Mexico’s scream for independence from Spain. On this day in 1810, a catholic priest named Miguel Hidalgo rang his parish church bell in the small town of Dolores, and implored his townspeople to fight for their freedom. Every year on September 15th, this turning point in Mexico’s history is re-enacted all across the country.
In Mexico City at 11:00 pm, the President of Mexico Enrique Peña Nieto emerges from the National Palace onto a balcony overlooking the Zócalo. Here, he rings the original Dolores bell, leads a rousing rendition of the national anthem, and pleads with the crowd to scream in unison, “Viva Mexico!”
About two weeks before the big scream, vendor stands like red, white, and green mushrooms pop up overnight on virtually every street corner. For sale are all sorts of clothes, hats, flags, streamers, noise makers, and other assorted accessories in the country’s favorite three colors.
Around town, lights are strung and banners are hung in the national colors, transforming the city’s drab buildings and facades. Like Christmas in September, red, white, and green decorations brighten up the cantinas, storefronts, and private residences.
Restaurants begin serving a seasonal dish created by Augustinian nuns to celebrate Mexico’s independence. Chili en nogada consists of a stuffed green poblano chili, smothered in a white walnut-based cream sauce, and topped with bright red pomegranate seeds. The result is a sweet and savory lunch dressed in the three colors of the Mexican flag.
In broad daylight, city electricians work to install colored lights all around town. Each night leading up to the big party, it seems that another one of the city’s glorious monuments or statues was switched on in the nation’s colors.
When the night of the big scream had finally arrived, the thought of cramming into the Zócalo for “El Grito” with a half million fanatical party-goers made us queasy. Instead, we joined a spirited but smaller crowd at the iconic Angel of Independence monument. There, we enjoyed a more family-oriented affair, and had plenty of elbowroom to dance to the lively banda music.
By the time the late-night party had stumbled to an end, it was early morning on September 16th, Mexico’s Independence Day national holiday. The highlight of the holiday is a long and comprehensive military parade, where personnel and equipment from every branch and division of Mexico’s military march down Paseo de la Reforma.
Since our apartment was on the parade route, we were able to review the well-organized armed forces as they paraded by. After over an hour of marching companies, all sorts of rolling artillery vehicles, and numerous mounted brigades on horseback, the parade concluded with its own army of street sweepers and janitorial staff. I hope they cleaned the bathrooms.
Featured Photo: Fountain of Diana the Huntress on Paseo de la Reforma