It is not exaggerating one bit to say that there is a larger than life fascination with fireworks here in Mexico. At three A.M. on almost any day of the week, you are likely to be woken up with a loud kaboom! followed by about six more. If it’s close enough, it rattles the house. Often, you will never know what it’s for but it certainly gets your attention. For festival days (or weeks) you’ll have rockets and church bells for an hour at about six in the morning, followed by rockets throughout the day. Sometimes it is from one church, other times they are scattered around town.
Two weeks before Easter
for the arrival of Senor de las Columnas, the rockets and churchbells begin at 3 A.M. from the top of Avenida Independencia. They are waiting for the procession from Atotonilco, an all night pilgrimage carrying statues of saints that will be paraded around town each day leading up to and including good Friday. The street has been decorated for almost a mile to the church, people are already on the street. There are non-stop rockets going off, waiting for the moment that the statues reach the top of the street where their silk and ribbon coverings are unwound. It is so loud and so long that you have to give up trying to sleep and go outside to watch. Everything is preceded and ended with fireworks. It is usually about 4 A.M that I give up trying to sleep and go outside.
The first time I saw a castillo fireworks tower was December 12, 1997, the feast day for the Virgin of Guadalupe. We were walking down into town when we noticed they were decorating a statue of the Virgin Guadalupe with roses. Behind her was a blue wall with a mural recounting the story of her siting by Juan Diego. Rockets are going off. A woman wearing a ‘Ski Vail’ sweatshirt stopped by to say a little prayer and bless herself. A banda was assembling nearby and more rockets were lit off. These are not just little pops, they are rockets, like roman candles which are placed in steel tubes in the middle of the street, people walking all around them, going off with a bang so loud you have to cover your ears while you involuntarily jump. There is an official looking man pacing up and down the street, talking to groups of people. By now, we know something is happening but not what. We decide to stay for a while. More flowers are added to the virgin’s altar which is now flowing to the ground. The banda is playing totally out of key but they or no one else seems to mind.
There’s a transformation going on. A pickup truck with covered side walls drives up and parks in the middle of the street. A young boy about 10 years old opens the tail gate and a group of men pile out pulling a wooden telephone pole behind them followed by open weave bamboo boxes which are armed with fireworks, twine, rope and fuses. We had never seen one of these before and spent the two hours wandering around them while they set up the pole in the middle of the street, then climb it to attach the fireworks pieces to it. Meanwhile, rockets are still being lit off all over the place. Everyone is covering their ears. The banda is still playing.
An ambulance, with sirens ringing, precedes a procession of women and young girls holding candles and singing while four men carry in a decorated litter which is holding a statue of Virgin of Guadalupe. All of this is followed by a parade of Aztec Conchero dancers. Everything quiets down for a rosary, which is led by a man wearing a down jacket. Afterwards, women and teenage girls hand out party bags with candy, oranges and peanuts to the crowd who all jump, then laugh, when a round of rockets go off.
About twenty little boys are running all over the place, getting friendly swats from their mothers reminding them to behave – a little admonishment for acting like little boys at this religious moment. Momentum is building again, more rockets going off. One mis-fires, bouncing off the wall behind the tamale sellers who all jump up laughing and turn around rubbing themselves and each other down to put out any sparks. The rockets are moved to the roof where they probably should have been in the first place and the first side of the castillo is lit.
The boys grab flattened cardboard boxes and begin running underneath the castillos as the sparks shower down. One side at a time goes off, screaming, whistling, twirling as it the colors change from white to yellow, then green and red. Another side is lit. The little boys are still running wild. This is a rite of passage if there ever was one. The top of the castillo opens into an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe sitting on a silver quarter moon which sizzles and fades away as the top piece whistles and shoots off into the sky.
Thirteen years later, the fireworks are as fascinating as ever.
Getting back to the origin of this post – a visit to the fireworks workshop – we finally got there this last November. Friends came into town and we set up a day to spend making a small castillo.
They gave us two paper mache diablitos ahead of time, which the children painted. They were attached to twirling bamboo pieces with rockets, to be blown up. The diablito with the happy face is Tom. He is fully armed, waiting for his demise which you can watch in the movie below. Diablito James Bond, below, is equally armed and waiting. Click Here to view a slideshow of castillo fireworks.
As luck would have it, we had a very windy day and had to scrap the idea of constructing and lighting off a castillo fireworks tower, at least for now. Cancellation due to the weather, however, we were able to blow up the painted diablitos which was satisfying for everyone.
There’s more to come on the fireworks workshop, but another day. For now, we’ve only got a little movie for you – The Demise of Tom and James Bond.
“The demise of Tom and James Bond”