Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Día de la Cruz – Day of the Cross

Tuesday, 5-3-11

The Day of the Cross is an annual event here that involves decorating crosses with fruit and flowers. An article in the newspaper today gave a perfect explanation about the day and how it got started.

Newspaper article from La Prensa
A tradition that is renewed every May 3rd
The Day of the Cross blends elements of Spanish and indigenous cultures

A cross made of jiote is decorated with paper chains, flowers, ribbons, and other decorations, while surrounded with seasonal fruits like mangos, bananas, and jocotes.

It's May. This scene can only mean that day of the Cross has arrived, a religious tradition in El Salvador celebrated today (May 3) and serves to announce the arrival of the rainy season and with this the “birth of the fruits”; is also an expression of religiosity.

The celebration blends a number of both indigenous and Christian elements. On the one hand, our ancestors dedicated this day to fertility, Mother Earth, and the god Xipe Totec, deity of death and rebirth of what exists in nature.

The purpose of this worship was to start planting and, with the rainy season coming, to get the blessing of crops. With the arrival of the Spanish, the custom was Christianized.

But the origin of the celebration of May 3rd dates back to the second century AD, when it is said, St. Helena seeks and finds the cross of Jesus. She decided to split the wood and send one part to Rome, another to Jerusalem and the last to Constantinople.

In the year 700 the Persians robbed the piece of the cross that belonged to Jerusalem, but it was returned on May 3, 1816 by the Byzantine emperor Constantine, and was known as the Day of the Cross.

Panchimalco Jucuapa, San Juan Nonualco, Cacaopera, Puerto El Triunfo San Agustín and Santa Cruz Analquito are some places in El Salvador where this tradition is displayed in a special way.

Everyone knows that you make the crosses from the Jiote tree, which is the renovation of nature and humanity after the coming of Christ and his resurrection. This tree is so generous that cutting one branch leads to new buds and shoots.

Also, the fruits that accompany it symbolize the appreciation of food from the earth that enable and ensure its existence so that people survive.

For the original article in Spanish visit:

A photo of a cross somewhere else in El Salvador

I left at 6:40 this morning to go to the market. I was off in search of fruit and flowers to buy for the teachers at school and also something for the Pastoral House. There weren’t a ton of people at the market selling things but there were a few. I bought some green mangos, yellow mangos, and some giant reddish ones. They all smelled delicious. I also bought some kind of fruit that had been dried and tied on a string. They’re called coyoles but I haven’t been able to figure out what that means in English.

There were some wooden crosses but I didn’t buy one since I knew the Pastoral Team and teachers would buy their own. I saw long strands of flower blooms that had been strung together using string. They were incredibly fragrant and absolutely beautiful. They are what I imagine Hawaiian leis would look like. I ended up buying 10; one for each of my teachers and one for the school. I got a little overcharged for the flowers (the gringo price) but I didn’t mind because I don’t often buy things like this.


More mangos

And even more mangos!

The women selling mangos

Coyol: the mystery fruit on a string

Grapes and mangos

Wooden crosses

Flower blooms strung into a chain

So beautiful!

Ready to be purchased

With my 10 strands

As I turned around to walk to school I saw Kathy and Cecilia walk up. Kathy took my picture because I had quite a load: all my school supplies, a bag of 13 mangos, the mystery fruit, and ten strands of flowers. It was a long, hot walk to school and by the time I got there I was sweating buckets. I immediately started giving the flowers to the teachers I work with. They were all excited and asked me where I got them. It was nice to be able to do something special for them.

Up on the stage area some teachers and kids were decorating the cross for the school. Even the director was up there helping out. Several of the teachers had brought fruit to school and so had some of the kids. I contributed a few of the mangos I’d just bought. The extra strand I had bought for my teacher’s class we used to decorate the cross. They were hanging fruit from the metal beams above as well. Since I had never done anything like this before I was really excited. It was all beautiful and I think it’s a wonderful tradition.

The school day itself was pretty relaxed. The classes usually didn’t start on time and during the break periods they played music over the sound system. The director told me that today was a joyful day and time for celebration. For our ‘word of the day’ I taught the kids how to say cross. I didn’t have my last class of the day because they had gone to walk up to the cross at the top of the mountain in Berlín. So I left early to go check out the fruit situation at the market.

Decorating the cross

Even the director is helping

So many beautiful flowers and fruit!


Hanging fruit from the ceiling

Mangos and bananas

Grapes and oranges too

Flowers on the floor by the cross

The teachers loved decorating too

Almost finished

Look at all that fruit!

The whole product

Mangos, bananas, a coconut, olives, flowers,
oranges, the mystery fruit, and berries of some sort

It was on display all morning

Pastoral House
I returned from the market with a little bit more fruit to put at the cross at the Pastoral House. I hadn’t seen it yet but I was excited. The cross was put up on a table in the back yard. It had delicate, fragrant white flowers on and around it. From the cross hung several olive branches. From the tree above hung green mangos. I draped the coyol fruit around the cross and set some grapes off to one side. On the other side I laid four mangos of different colors. In front of that I placed several delicious plums. A single banana added a nice touch.

I asked the ladies what we did with the fruit once the day was over. I asked if we were going to eat it. They said yes. I was excited because I didn’t want the fruit to go to waste and I really like eating fruit. When I told Kathy she looked confused. Last year, she told me, they said you didn’t eat the fruit and it basically rotted away. She had to ask the ladies several times when it was time to get rid of the old fruit. So I went down to double-check with the ladies just to make sure I hadn’t misunderstood them. They again told me yes, that we’d be eating the fruit. I said that if I got hungry in the middle of the night then I could go outside and have a little snack.

Chiquita perched on a rock by the cross

The cross at the Pastoral House

She's helping to decorate!

Dark olives

And green olives

The plums I bought

The finished product

Around 2:00pm we headed out to the community of Alejandría where Cecilia, Blanca, Idalia, Balmore, and Jesús live. It is the month of the Virgin so families and friends in communities often gather together to say the rosary. Today it was going to be at Jesús’ house. We piled up into the truck and headed to Alejandría. We made a brief stop along the way to give some fresh pineapple juice and cookies to people who were working in the community to dig small canals alongside the road in order to channel the water during the rainy season thus preventing erosion.

When we arrived in Alejandría we first visited Blanca and Cecilia’s houses. Their families had both put out crosses of their own and decorated them. It was fun to see when other people’s crosses looked like. Blanca’s family had two crosses, both with mangos and real and paper flowers. We also saw Cecilia’s neighbor’s cross. She said there weren’t a lot of decorations on it but I thought it was beautiful. I loved the bougainvillea and green mangos that adorned the cross. The cross as Cecilia’s house, which I was told is Idalia’s cross, was very ornate. It had a plate of mangos in front of it and was decorated with several flowers from the garden. I love the flowers that grow here in El Salvador. I took pictures of several flowers at their house.

Next we made it to Jesus’ house. His mother, Lola, lives there and Jesus lives there occasionally because he usually lives and works at the church here in Berlín. The inside of their home was filled with flower arrangements. I have to hand it to the Salvadorans: they know how to use flowers in every way imaginable and they use them for everything. I’ve never been to a celebration here that didn’t have flowers and today was no exception. They create the most exquisite displays I’ve ever seen.

Outside the house were two crosses: one created by Lola and one by Jesús. Lola’s cross had several golondrina flowers by it. Below it were izote flowers, which are the national flower of El Salvador. It also had purple flowers and some pink streamers. I had brought her several mangos for her cross. She immediately put them on her cross. I love Lola!! Older people in general are adorable and she is definitely a special person. Jesús’ cross was beautifully decorated as well. He had mangos, a papaya, plantains, corn, izote flowers, streamers, and red roses. He said he got up at 5am to create the cross.

Around 3:30pm everyone had arrived and it was time to begin the rosary. I wasn’t able to follow all of it because they were talking really fast and I’ve never said a rosary before. Not being Catholic, I never learned. So I mainly just listened. There were a lot of “Hail Marys” and “Our Fathers” and some other things I didn’t know. There were a few readings and lots of songs as well.

Toward the end Balmore gave a short homily of sorts about fruit and the birth of new things. He talked about Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit. He told us that Jesus is the fruit of truth and justice. He also read John 12:24 which I instantly recognized though I’m not sure why: “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” That fit well with today being the Day of the Cross. I’m sure he planned it that way.

After the rosary was over Lola and her sisters, Pilar and Alicia, handed out hot atole. Atole is a hot drink made from corn, water, sugar, and cinnamon. I’ve had atole before but it was nothing I got excited about. This atole, however, was absolutely delicious!! It was without a doubt the best atole I’ve ever had and I told the ladies that when I’d finished. By 5:15 we were back in the truck and headed back to the Pastoral House. Today was my first celebration of the Day of the Cross and my first rosary. It’s been a day of learning indeed!

Blanca's family's cross

The second cross at Blanca's house

Cecilia's neighbor's cross

Idalia's cross

Lobster claw

I love these flowers

I'm not sure what these are

These are called "maracas"

Top down view


Inside Lola's house

Lola's cross

Jesus' cross

Corn by Jesus' cross

The Virgin in the middle of the room

1 comment:

Matt said...

What an amazing day of celebration. All the fruits and flowers are incredible! I'm glad Chequita got to help out too.