Most often used to refer to a witch in Spanish, the word ‘bruja’ has another less common meaning: it is also the name of an old-fashioned wick-style lamp, made from tin.
‘Martes de Brujas’ in Santa Cruz Xoxocotlan (Xoxo to locals, pronounced ‘ho ho’), a municipality of Oaxaca, Mexico, is a fiesta that celebrates the old style lamps and what they represent to the local area.
In the colonial days when the first Cathedrals were being built, the workers often toiled long into the night, and the lamps-lit by the women- were the signal of a shift change. The men were given tamales and atole as their meal. They all ate together as if they were one big family.
Now yearly on every Tuesday night for a month, the lit ‘brujas’ draw in neighbours and visitors looking for a delicious and cheap meal- and to pay tribute to the hard-working men and women who helped construct the town. The recipes have been passed down for generations and the mood is friendly and social.
The small centre square is set up with stalls selling traditional tamales: a corn-dough mass filled with a variety of sauces and then roasted in banana leaves or corn husks. You can buy all kinds: mole (a slightly sweet sauce served with chicken), beef, bean, pork, and even sweet ones like pineapple and chocolate. They sell for an average of 50 cents and it doesn’t take many to fill you. Atole, a hot sweet drink also made from corn is served along with the tamales. Both tamales and atole are pre-Hispanic foods that were often used as offerings to the Aztec Gods.
Throngs of people of all ages cram into the dark plaza with the lighted ‘brujas’ as the only source of light. The festival also hosts a great line up entertainment with traditional dance and theatre performances and big name local acts like Lila Downs (in past years) and Susana Harp (this year).
Martes de Brujas runs from March 11-April 15, 2014 on Tuesdays only.
Has anyone been to this? If you’ve tried tamales or atole, do you have a favourite kind?