It’s St. Carmen’s Birthday!

carmen!

It is the Virgin Carmen’s birthday. She is the patron saint of Oaxaca. My alarm rips me out of bed at 5:45.

At 6, the church is calling us to celebrate. Bells reverberate throughout the city. The streets become canals of noise as the church bells reverberate off the wrought iron. The song is all over.

The church starts sending off cahuetes (fireworks without the color, just the noise) at 6:20 to wrest sinners from their beds.

Two more mariachi arrive to join the four. They received the message.

At 6:30, the cahuetes do not stop and the bells ring some more.

6:40, the mariachi take a request from the father. Everyone around me is singing.

This is the last song before a round of call and response prayers with a strong preference for the Santa Maria prayer that starts off with a strong Santa Maria and then trails off into a garbled jumble of words. The woman behind me always tries to say Santa Maria the loudest and fastest. (She wins.)

The sun rises at 6:59. The bells ring again at 7, urging the father on with his round of prayers.

I think he is urging us to practice until we get it right.

Another cahuete at 7:02.

The praying ends at 7:04 and a marching band arrives to wake us up again.

By 7:20, we’ve been smudged and another round of prayers begins.

We thank the Santa Patrona de Oaxaca. The band outside plays, and we begin singing.

The father struggles with three microphones. Finally, he chants in his own clear voice.

Another man does a reading. His voice fills the chamber, is competition for the bells ringing at 7:30. A woman rises and sings, we echo.

The father nods his head approvingly. We finally have it. Loud, clear, coordinated, lovely.

Her mic works; her voice rises, so does ours.

7:44 we are praying now. The father changes pulpits and books. A child we cannot see speaks quickly. I get a few words: fe, communidad, yo, nosotros, Maria.

Cars honk adamantly outside, more cahuetes.

7:48 more incense, more band. The collection baskets are passed. The coins in them jingle.

7:55 the band plays again. People go to their knees. A woman taps me on the shoulder and points to show me how to get on my knees.  And, for the love of God, I should not be texting!  (Sinner I am, I am actually typing this out as we go.)

The bells chime 8. The body of Christ in his left hand, the blood in his right, the father instructs people put to out their hands to receive communion.

8:03, we greet our neighbors. (Even the lady who tapped me on the shoulder.)

8:04, the father dips the cracker in wine, eats, drinks. People form two lines to receive communion.

8:08, the father runs off for more wine. 8:10, all have been served. The dishes have been washed, the ritual closed by 8:19. The band stops. We stand.

We pray. A bell rings like an alarm. Many cahuetes. 8:20, the prayers are over. The party begins.

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