Amid Drumbeats and Hissing Rattles, Generations Perform ‘La Danza de Matachines’ at Mission Concepción

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La Aztecas de Helotes at Mission Concepción. Photo by Robert Rivard

Robert RivardThe sound of rhythmic drumbeats and the snakelike hiss of rattles carried through the neighborhood and down to the San Antonio River as generations of San Antonians performed La Danza de Matachines Sunday morning at Mission Concepción.

Attendance was down this year, but the convergence of three feast days on the Catholic calendar proved stronger than freezing temperatures for those who assembled for the 7 a.m. march and 8 a.m. dances outside the mission and inside the church. Grandfathers danced alongside adolescent granddaughters, each keeping the same beat, dancing the same steps, sharing the same costumes adorned with beads, feathers and religious symbols.

Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a Holy Day in the Catholic Church that falls between the Feast Days of Juan Diego (Dec. 5) and the Virgin of Guadalupe (Dec. 12)

Each parish group or family performed its own interpretive dance, their colorful costumes and individual percussion beats and steps connecting them back to indigenous traditions from different Mexican villages and states that past generations brought north across the border.

La Danza de las Matachines at Mission Concepción. Photo by Robert Rivard

La Danza de las Matachines at Mission Concepción. Photo by Robert Rivard

“We learned the traditions from past generations that came up from

A saint bearing the image of the Virgen of Guadalupe rides in a  red wagon in the Sunday processional at Mission Concepción. Photo by Robert Rivard

St. Juan Diego, wearing the mantle bearing the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, rides in a red wagon in the Sunday processional at Mission Concepción. Photo by Robert Rivard

Mexico,” said Tony Aguilar, whose family performed Sunday. The Aguilars actively perpetuate the tradition by helping different San Antonio parishes form their own troupes and learn the dances.

A status of St. Juan Diego, wearing the mantle bearing the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, rode in a red wagon that trailed behind the Aguilars on the long march around Concepción Park. It’s that kind of touching mix of faith, tradition, and the artifacts of  modern life that adds a unique local flavor to San Antonio’s celebration. You can learn more about the tradition by reading, “600 Matachines to Dance Sunday Morning at Mission Concepción.”

While attendance fell far short of the anticipated 600 dancers, there was no shortage of spectacle for onlookers who bundled up for the wintry procession and dance sequences. One by one, the dance troupes made their way into the mission church, and the outdoor audience quickly followed. The small, wonderfully restored mission church was filled with strollers, parents holding blanketed babies, and curious onlookers pointing smart phone sin every direction, many saying they were previously unaware of the local tradition.

A dancing devil directs traffic as the procession crosses Mission Road. Photo by Robert Rivard

A dancing devil directs traffic as the procession crosses Mission Road. Photo by Robert Rivard

I was a young reporter for the Corpus Christi Caller fortunate to have been at the Basilica de la Virgen de Guadalupe in Mexico City in January 1978 when Pope John Paul II made his inaugural visit to Mexico. The plaza outside the basilica was filled with more than one million people and thousands of matachines dancing in honor of the pope. The same scene is replayed in countless cities and plazas throughout the Americas.

Isn’t it time to bring the celebration to San Antonio’s Main Plaza? It seems only fitting that the city and archdiocese organize an annual Dec. 12 Danza de Matachines in the shadow of San Fernando Cathedral and invite parishes throughout South Texas and Northern Mexico to participate. The event likely would hundreds or more dancers and enough locals and visitors to close the city streets surrounding the plaza (temporarily, of course).

“It would be wonderful to share the matachines tradition with the whole city and with everyone who travels here to experience San Antonio and what makes us so unique,” Father David Garcia said Sunday at Mission Concepción. “It could be something amazing.”

A city wanting to showcase authenticity would be hard pressed to find a cultural activity that predates the dance tradition born out of the Spanish conquest and the arrival of Catholic missionaries to the new world. Local observance of La Danza de las Matachines is, presumably, as old as San Antonio’s Spanish missions. It’s a subtle reminder that the majority of San Antonians descend from both Spanish and indigenous lineages. Adding the tradition to the official calendar and bringing the event to the city’s original gathering place would be one more way for San Antonio to tell its story.

Follow Robert Rivard on Twitter @rivardreport or on Facebook.

 

Related Stories:

600 Matachines to Dance Sunday Morning at Mission Concepción

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San Antonio Celebrates the River’s Mission Reach

Mission County Park, Where People Have Gathered for Milennia, Reopens

The Mission Reach: Bringing Life and Pride Back to the Southside

It’s the Decade of Downtown, But Don’t Miss San Antonio’s Rising Southside

Something Monday: Mission Possible

 

4 thoughts on “Amid Drumbeats and Hissing Rattles, Generations Perform ‘La Danza de Matachines’ at Mission Concepción

  1. Great job covering what was a beautiful and spectacular San Antonio moment. Thanks so much for sharing it with your readership and the broader community. We will surely see more of these danzantes at the missions. They are the heart and soul of the faith tradition of our city. I agree that a Main Plaza gathering of hundreds of dancers in the near future will offer another unique showcase of San Antonio.

    • Rivard’s and Fr. Garcia’s choice of word, that is, “showcase” is rather unfortunate. This tradition, as it is practiced in San Antonio, is certainly not for “show” or any kind of entertainment. So, the moment this tradition is added to the city’s “official calendar” to “showcase authenticity” in the plaza, the authenticity of this tradition of devotion will be paradoxically and undoubtedly replaced by a facsimile.

      Raza in San Antonio do not “observe” the danza de matachines but rather observe the feast days of the Virgen de Guadalupe and San Juan Diego by participating in this dance.

      If Fr. David and Mr. Rivard want this event to be a major event in the plaza, then great care must be taken so that it does not become a curiosity for tourists or anyone else for that matter. This is because entities such as the chamber of commerce will look for ways to commercialize the event in attempts at exploiting the devotion and faith of which the danza de matachines a manifestation. The result will be a the presentation of a danza void of its spirit.

  2. The faulty parallelism I was referring to was removed by the moderator at the same time of my December 10, 2014 post, making my point moot. It would be a good idea to remove it .

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