There’s obviously a fiesta going on in Chiapa de Corzo. The booths and rides are set up, although not attended since it’s the middle of the day. Tonight, however, there will be revelry and flashing lights.
Chiapa de Corzo is the oldest town in Chiapas, founded in the 1500’s by the Spanish and deserted later when the heat drove them farther into the hills where they founded what is now called San Cristóbal de Las Casas. It’s a beautiful town with a lovely center square. Like most towns, Chiapa de Corzo celebrates the feast of their patron saint. For more than two weeks in January, from approximately the 8th to the 23rd, they celebrate the feast of San Sebastian with parades, festivities, feasts, and fireworks.
Today we’re lucky to be in the center just before the “parachicos” come prancing through town to the central church. This is a photographer’s dream. The parachicos actually encourage people to take photographs. They stop for a second, pose, and then carry on with dancing, rattles, and shouts. Women dressed in elaborate gowns join the parade. The saint honored for that day is surrounded by flowers and carried out of the church and into the street. The parade continues through town.
Originally the festival was to celebrate the memory of a Spanish woman named Maria de Angulo. There are various stories that explain her generosity to the people of Chiapa de Corzo. In the 18th century she came from Guatemala to Chiapa de Corzo to find a healer for her ailing son. One story says that years later there was a famine in the region due to locusts that destroyed the crops. Maria de Angulo returned to Chiapa de Corzo and gave food and money to the children and people in gratitude for her son’s recovery. Today the men dress in light skinned masks and straw hair that resemble the fair skinned and fair hair Spaniards. They are called “parachicos” (“for the children”) because it’s what Maria de Angulo’s servants cried as they distributed coins to the children. Another story says that Maria de Angulo asked the people of the town to dress up in costumes to make her son happy. When asked why they were dancing, they replied, “bailamos para el chico."
In addition to the parachicos, there are men who dress as women, "chuntas." They dance and sing in the streets. The traditional peasant costumes represent the servants of Maria de Angulo who gave food to the townspeople. Another version of the story says that during the Mexican Revolution, the men moved into the hills and came into the town disguised as women so that they could get food.
Today it’s the parachicos that we want to see. Another time we’ll come to share in the special feasts that families offer daily. And one night we’ll stay to see the re-enactment of a battle. We’ve heard that the fireworks over the river are spectacular. And it’s only an hour drive from La Joya Hotel San Cristóbal.
January Celebrations in Chiapa de Corzo
While it's best to consult each year's calender, the following dates and activities give a general idea of the festivities.
|Jan 8-23||Fiesta de Enero|
|Jan 14||Night “gangs” of chuntas and bands wander the streets|
|Jan 15||Festival for the Black Christ of Esquipulas|
|Jan 15-23||Parachicos parade through neighborhoods (except Jan 19 and 21)|
|Jan 17||Festival for San Antonio Abad|
|Jan 19||Authorities award best groups and costumes of chuntas|
|Jan 20||Festival for San Sebastion|
|Jan 21||Naval battle re-enacted on Grijalva River|
|Jan 22||Parade with floats, mariachis, dancers|
|Jan 23||Parade of dancers|