Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Fireworks in Mexico. It's magical. It's historical. It's religious. It's deadly.

Cohetes (rockets)
This morning the cohetes (rockets) started about 5. Not unusual, but they went on far longer than I’ve heard before … probably at least 50 rockets (loud) in the volley. 
We gringos down here talk about this a lot and usually just wind up dismissing it with … it’s Mexico. This morning, however, I decided to see if I could find out why Mexico celebrates its saints and its dead with exploding devices and loud noises.

I discovered more than I expected … or wanted.

Bias alert: I love beautiful fireworks 
carefully controlled
but am less charmed by things that throw 
fire around indiscriminately
and hurt people.
I am also an observer not a judge.

Rather than try to write rationally about this conflicted custom, I decided to present a series of videos. Photos are screenshots from the various videos.

First, a background from Wikipedia: Although the main ingredient for fireworks, gunpowder, was brought by the conquistadors in the 16th century, fireworks became popular in Mexico in the 19th century, celebrating independence from Spain. Today, Mexico is Latin America’s second largest producer, almost entirely for domestic use, with products ranging from small firecrackers to large shells and frames for pyrotechnics called “castillos” (castles) and “toritos” (little bulls). The industry is artisanal, with production concentrated in family-owned workshops and small factories with a number operating illegally. 
In several videos, I heard people talk about "burning Judas" because he betrayed Jesus. The danger seems to be clear but fireworks touch a nerve that is, apparently, deeper than fear.

CLICK HERE FOR VIDEO: Fireworks Movie The National Pyrotechnic Festival in Tultepec, Mexico. Fireworks are part of the fierce beauty of Mexico. Es mágico. Es histérico.  Es religioso. Es mortal.
Ardent watcher of the pyrotechnics
CLICK HERE FOR VIDEO: Toritos (little bulls) — from Wikipedia: The National Pyrotechnic Festival, is an annual event to promote the country's tradition of production and use of fireworks. It began as celebration in honor of John of God, the patron saint of fireworks makers, in the municipality of Tultepec, State of Mexico. The main event, a parade of "toritos" or bull-shaped frames with fireworks on them, began in the mid 19th century. The modern national festival began in 1989 and includes various events including fireworks competitions, but the main event remains that of the toritos, with about 250 "running" along the streets of Tultepec. 

One of the bulls from the parade.
CLICK HERE FOR VIDEO: Castillos (castles) — huge fireworks structures done in the midst of a lot of people. From San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, where the custom emerged with “el grito” (the scream) declaring independence. 
The fascination of fireworks.
Fireworks Castillo (castle)
CLICK HERE FOR THE VIDEO: Fireworks is an industry. 80% of fireworks are made in Tultepec. An estimated 30,000 people in Tultepec work full time in the fireworks trade, and local residents say they’re undeterred by the explosions in the local pyrotechnics market. 

At the Tultepec Fireworks Market
CLICK HERE FOR THE VIDEO: Fireworks are deadly. Just days before Christmas of 2016 in Mexico City, a 12-minute chain reaction of rockets destroyed a Tultepec fireworks market and killed at least 32 people. Three months later a saint’s day was celebrated with fireworks. An 18-year-old fireworks worker was quoted on a news report as saying, “It’s worth the risk of dying for the beauty of the craft."

At the Tulepec Fireworks Market
While the Catholic Church has tried to dampen the enthusiasm for fireworks because of the danger and the expense, it seems to be deeply engrained into the culture and there’s a belief for some that prayers are “amplified” by exploding pyrotechnics.

CLICK HERE FOR THE VIDEO: The hammer. This one proves that stupidity is not a factor of geography, but does tend to have a gender bias. 
Conclusion: Fire and fireworks have fascinated humans for thousands of years. Call it celebrating freedom, independence, saints or the burning of Judas, it's primal and the danger and adrenalin rush is part of the fascination. It's Mexico ... it's all of us. In the US we've made inroads against the hazard and noise. Here in Mexico, not so much. Maybe that's another reason we love it.

Conclusion #2: I just put the National Pyrotechnic Festival on my calendar for 2018. Wanna go?

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