Chimalhuacán hosts the oldest carnival in the world

Introduced to Mexico during the empire of Maximilian of Habsburg, the Carnival of the Mexican municipality of Chimalhuacán remains the oldest festival of its kind in the world.

March 30, 2017
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For almost three months, the streets of Chimalhuacán, located to the east of the Valley of Mexico, are filled with music and a party atmosphere enjoyed by everyone.

According to the municipal chronicler, Darío Álvarez Jiménez, some aspects of this carnival were extracted from the celebrations during the French invasion celebrated by Maximilian of Habsburg and his wife Carlota in the Chapultepec Castle and National Palace.

He says that it is not known exactly how the carnival came to Chimalhuacán, however, the closest versions attributed it to Isabel Carbonell, a young woman of European origin who lived in a colony of the municipality, as well as a woman who worked as a housekeeper at the Emperor’s friends’ house.

Álvarez Jiménez said that between 1900 and 1902 the first formal groups were outfitted with more uniform and luxurious attire, but in early years the dance tradition was practiced by men, who went out to the streets dressed in women’s clothing.

Although this dance originated in the municipality of Chimalhuacán, with the passage of time it has been replicated in other areas such as San Salvador Atenco, Texcoco, La Paz, Chicoloapan, as well as in the delegations Xochimilco, Tláhuac, Iztacalco and Iztapalapa.

Álvarez Jiménez points out that this tradition involves the whole family, and he and his family save for twelve months to participate. On average, the cost to participate is $70,000 pesos, the investment includes the purchase or rental of the suit, the mask, the shoes and the tradition orders that he must also cover the expenses of his partner (charra).

However, the inhabitants of this municipality do not spare any costs for the celebration, since they say it’s in their blood and tradition of their people and passed down through generations. There are even teams in which the grandfather, the father, the son and the grandson dance, accompanied by the whole family and groups of friends.

The chronicler Álvarez Jiménez points out that by tradition in the carnival, only the single women of the municipality can participate, whereas for the men their marriage status is not important.

In the Chimalhuacán carnival that began last February and will conclude in April, more than 100 comparsas, made up of about 26 couples, are dancing to the rhythm of orchestra music in the streets, squares and colonies.

In this tour, the charras are wearing elegant skirts embroidered with sequins that look spectacular when dancing cadenciosamente accompanied by their partner.

Works of art bathed in gold and silver

Prehispanic warriors, creatures of Greek mythology, flowers, jaguars, horses, birds and many other figures are embroidered with threads of gold and silver canutillo in the costumes worn by the charros during the carnival of Chimalhuacán.

Making this type of clothing takes the local artisans up to a year and that is why its price ranges from $55,000 – $85,000 pesos, depending on the amount of material used to create each of the figures.

Chimalhuacán is home to a large number of family workshops dedicated to this activity, which, due to its high demand, provides them with employment throughout the year. As well as the case of Jesús Buendía Hernández, who has been manufacturing this type of garments for the dancers in this and other municipalities for 45 years.

Originally from the San Juan neighborhood, “Don Chucho” is a craftsman who started this work in 1972, having in his hands only a needle and all the desire to make his own clothes.

With the support of five people who work in their workshop, they currently make one costume on average every six months, using between one and three kilos of threaded gold or silver-plate that are imported from France.

At 74, for Jesus Buendia it is important to preserve this activity and to achieve this he has been busy teaching this technique of embroidery to his descendants.

The charras accompany their clothes with a hat that allows them to cover them from the intense rays of the sun and make them look more elegant; These are also embroidered by the Buendia family with gold and silver thread.

Although many people buy this outfit each year for the celebration, there are also those who for economic reasons do not get to collect the money and decide to rent the suit for $5,000 pesos.

European faces march through the streets of Chimalhuacán

Blue eyes, well defined eyebrows, trimmed beard and pink cheeks give shape to the traditional wax mask that forms part of the carnival costume of this municipality of the State of Mexico.

According to the settlers, the features of this accessory used by the dancers were made as a form of demonstration against the empire of Maximilian and all the Europeans who came to Mexico.

However, this type of masks was not used from the beginning, because to go out to the streets initially the men used those made in a simpler way with wood and cardboard.

It was shortly before 1926 that Mr. Erasmo Valverde, a native of the municipal seat, began to create this craft that has a high demand today, not only by its own inhabitants but by those who come from neighboring cities or delegations of Mexico City.

The heirs of this tradition continue to form hundreds of masks throughout the year, since the Carnival is celebrated at the beginning of the year, they always keep the workshop active in order to have the products of the following season ready.

Adalberto Valverde, member of the fourth generation of mascareros, emphasizes the importance of preserving this activity for many years to come. Nowadays, he and his brother share with their sons the secret to create these true works of art that already travel the world.

Adalberto says that they continue with this activity because it was his father who before his death entrusted him to “not leave the charros without their masks”, which is why they also offer affordable prices so that all the dancers have the original mask.

By alluding to Emperor Maximilian, the masks they make in the municipality of Chimalhuacán attract the attention of any national and international tourist, who have brought these handicrafts to Cuba, France, the United States, England, Argentina, Canada, among other nations.

The costumes, the masks, the music and the passion that the families give to commemorate this celebration year after year make carnival one of the most important traditions of Chimalhuacán and of the world.

NTX / ISM / EVG





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