The Flowers of Zinacantan

San Lorenzo Zinacantan lies below the high road that sweeps down into the valley. When I first saw the tops of the long white greenhouses, I wondered where the flowers traveled to from this little place in the clouds.

Now I know that flowers under plastic just begin to describe the role that nature plays in the life of this Tzotzil community, only thirty minutes from La Joya Hotel in San Cristóbal de Las Casas.

The people of Zinacantan embrace their passion for flowers in their clothing and in their churches and cemeteries. Walking in the town during a fiesta is like walking in a kaleidoscope’s tube of revolving colors. Men, women, and children wear tunics, shawls, and skirts with heavily embroidered floral designs.  They outline the face of their church in flowers and pile the altars high with densely packed bouquets.

Each year the women of Zinacantan introduce a new design for their textiles.  In August people come to El Dia de San Lorenzo celebration just to see the unveiling of the new colors and patterns. My favorite combination of blue and purples has given way to reds and pinks. These have been enhanced by iridescent threads among the petals, and more recently by horizontal bands of pink and blue between the bouquets. Every now and then someone sneaks in a bird or a chameleon. There’s even a rumor that Mickey Mouse once made an appearance on a shawl.

 Horse races are also a part of the August celebration. As the riders wait for the start, they sip the fermented juice of sugarcane from a communal bottle and perch their ribboned hats precariously on their heads. When the race begins, colors fly in all directions, as do arms and legs in a pandemonium of shouts, men, and horses. They race up the road outside the walled church yard and back. Then up the road again. There’s such a flurry of men and horses that there’s no way to tell who is ahead.

El Dia de los Muertos and Dia de Todos Santos on the first and second of November are quieter than the August celebration, but just as colorful. Families gather at Zinacantan’s two cemeteries that sit high in the green mountains where clouds linger. The graveyards are covered with flowers in unbelievable layers of color. The scene is so thick with real and embroidered bouquets that you can hardly tell the people from the grave sites.

Even when there are no celebrations in Zinacantan, it is a treat to visit the highest cemetery just before dusk and watch the day fade blue into the night.

There’s no mystery to where the flowers go during fiestas, but I’m still not sure where they end up after they leave this beautiful valley and have their own adventure beyond the highlands of Chiapas.






Celebrations in Zinacantan

Jan 1: Change of government officials
Jan 6:
Fiesta de los Reyes
Jan 18-20: Dia de San Sebastian



Carnaval Week before Lent

Activities every Friday

May 3: Fiesta de Santa Cruz
Aug 8-10: Dia de San Lorenzo
Nov 1-2: Dia de los Muertos y Dia de Todos Santos
Dec 12: Dia de la Virgin de Guadalupe
Dec 31: Change of government officials and those in charge of the saints

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