Feast of San Sebastian

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Residents of the tiny town of San Sebastian Abasolo in the Mexican state of Oaxaca celebrate the feast of their patron saint, Saint Sebastian, on January 20. For nine days before that date, residents attend a mass at the church each day, with one family volunteering to make the arrangements. When I visited on January 15, the day started with a meal at the home of Augustin & Leonor Morales Varela. They were the volunteers this day, whose job was to arrange for the priest, the band, the flowers, and the fireworks. Before the mass, they invited at least three dozen neighbors to a meal at their home. Like most in this area, their home is surrounded by a wall, which opens on a dirt courtyard with several structures around the perimeter – an open-sided shed where dinner was served, a saint’s room, living quarters, a shed for cooking and dishwashing, and in the back, a two-stall outhouse. Turkeys and chickens roamed the courtyard. We were served mole negro with rice and chicken. The state of Oaxaca is famous for its moles — there are about seven varieties. The women had been cooking it for two days, and the results were spectacular.
After dinner, everyone joined a loose procession down the street to the church. The men carried candles and the women carried flowers. At the church, the bells rang and firecrackers were set off. ¬†Fr. Victorio Nickolas Velasco celebrated mass, and then everyone filed out of the church and held a procession around the now-dark church courtyard. Then it was back to the house for another meal — tamales with chocolate de agua, drunk out of small bowls, and several varieties of bread.

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