Mexican TraditionsOctober 2, 2013 • By Alfonso Olvera
Holy Cross Day is celebrated everywhere in Mexico on May 3. Curiously, it has become the feast day of masons. Here's the story why.
Faithful Catholic Spaniards used to adorn a cross with flowers on this day and place it on top of their houses. Later, the Spanish missionaries brought this tradition to our country.
Since in the early years of the Spanish colonial period in Mexico, most churches were still under construction, on May 3 the priests asked the masons to make crosses and put them on the highest point of the building. Over the centuries, masons came to make this their own celebration, and they and their families now have a special feast on this day.
Santiago is a master mason who is working on construction in Mexico City; he starts work every day very early. His olive-skinned hands, lightened by the lime, are still sufficiently strong to prepare the mixture and carry the bricks. His fellow workers treat him with great respect because, after all, forty years of experience as a mason is not to be taken lightly. "No sir, you have to do things conscientiously; otherwise, with the slightest tremor, boom! ... everything comes crashing down..." he says with a smile.
"A day off? ... Hmmmm, no, that's a long way off... there's always work, a lot to build... just maybe, on May third, which is our day, but we don't take the day off..."
Santiago sits down on a pile of bricks. "That day, the architects or owners of the construction invite us for lunch and a few beers... and that's how they honor us on our day."
On this special date, on the construction site, they play the radio all day long and dance with their friends and family to the rhythms of mariachi music, or ranchera, Mexican country style music. They have tacos with all sorts of delicious fillings: carnitas, pork meat, barbacoa meat from sheep, black refried beans, tamales, topped with fantastic very hot salsas.
The tradition of Holy Cross Day goes beyond just food, however. Santiago says that ever since he began working as a mason in 1959, along with his fellow workers, he has put up a simple, flower-bedecked wooden cross strewn with decorative paper on whatever construction they are working on. Later, the masons and the employers pray together. In the prayers, "we turn ourselves over to Our Lord's care for the year, to protect us from the many dangers of this trade", says Santiago, showing us a huge scar on his arm... "a shovel fell on me from who knows where".
Santiago says a very cordial good-bye and walks toward the back of the construction. From the school corner he can be seen working every day from very early in the morning, because "There's still a long way to go!" until May third.