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Snapshots

Panketzaliztli: The Raising of the Banners

[ Kurly Tlapoyawa ]

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This year, December 6th marks the first day of Panketzaliztli in the Central Mexican / Mexikah calendar system. This day bears the name Makwilli Ozomatli, or “Five Monkey” in the day count.

The feast of Panketzaliztli is important because it marks the Winter Solstice, also known as the “Birth of Witzilopochtli.” This was a time of year traditionally reserved for warfare.

The feast of Panketzaliztli was celebrated by burning rows of bonfires in order to guide the sun back to us. The feast included Tamales, popcorn, and amaranth cakes. It ended with the ritual burning of a paper Xiuhkoatl, which represented the Atlatl or “spear thrower”of Witzilopochtli.

The feast of Panketzaliztli and the birth of Witzilopochtli serves as the basis for the Mexican tradition of “Las Posadas.”

Las Posadas began in 1587, in the town of San Agustín Acolman, 40 kilometers from Teotihuacan, when Fray Diego de Soria obtained a permit granted by the then Pope Sixtus V in which he gave the celebration in New Spain of the Christmas mass.

These liturgical acts that would serve to evangelize the natives were carried out from December 16 to 24 in the atriums of the temples. Among these ceremonies it was customary to fuse passages and scenes representative of the Nativity. Taking advantage of the inclusion of gunpowder to Mexican lands, the celebrations were illuminated with sparklers, rockets; as well as the piñatas, songs and carols.

However, this way of Christianizing the natives of Mexiko-Tenochtitlan was not completely unknown by the settlers. While the Spaniards and part of Europe were waiting with allegory for the birth of Jesus, the inhabitants of Anahuac (Valley of Mexico) were preparing simultaneously to receive the Sun Child.
How did such a similarity to Catholicism occur?

The researcher Germán Andrade Labastida discovered in 1942 that “The Aztecs celebrated with great pomp the birth of Huitzilopochtli (” hummingbird of the south “or” left hummingbird “), and this ceremony was precisely at Christmas time, at night and at day next there was a party in all the houses, where the guests were given succulent food and small figurines or idols made of blue corn, roasted and ground, mixed with black maguey honey “.

Indeed, every year, on the first day of the Panquetzaliztli (the fifteenth month of the Nahuatl 365-day calendar), a cult was celebrated in honor of the god Huitzilopochtli, the Sun Child, to solemnize his birth on December 21.

According to Amaranta Leyva, “the ceremony began with a race led by a very fast runner who carried in his arms a figure of Huitzilopochtli made of amaranth and wearing on his head a blue flag (pantu) (texuhtli)”.

It started in Huey Teocali (great house of the sun) and reached Tacubaya, Coyohacan (Coyoacán) and Huitzilopochco (Churubusco). Behind the portados of this image ran a crowd that had been prepared with fasting.

During the Winter Solstice (December 21), the sun had already crossed the celestial vault and had died on December 20. El Niño Sol went to Mictlán (Place of the Dead) where it was transmuted as a hummingbird to return to the origin.

Coincidentally, December 24 was the day when the sun resurfaced from Malinalco (today, head of the State of Mexico), in the middle of a series of rituals and dances.

Just at that time, other ceremonial acts occurred: the Indians installed banners or pantyhose of paper amare all the fruit trees and edible plants of the season. On the day of the party, all the trees were cured and pulque (meoctli) and tortillas (tlaxcalli) were offered, as a token of gratitude for what was harvested during the year.

Historians and specialists in the prehispanic culture of Mexico, highlight that this cult is an analogy with the posadas at the time of breaking the piñata or the distribution of the collation.

From these similarities, the Augustinian friars used to evangelize easily the descendants of the Axtlan (mythical place where they came from).
This is how they honored religious acts to make it possible for them to recognize themselves as soon as the new religion.

In his memorials written in 1541, Fray Toribio de Motolinía narrated that for the Christmas celebrations, the natives adorned the churches with flowers and herbs; They scattered sedge on the floor, made their entrance dancing and singing and each carried a bouquet of flowers in his hand.
In the eighteenth century, the celebrations took more force in the neighborhoods and in the houses and the religious music was replaced by the popular song, but they did not stop being realized in the temples.

Among Christmas carols, piñatas and celebration, the inns are part of the ancestral spirit of Mexican culture.

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Interested in learning more about Mesoamerican ritual and cosmovision? Check out our new book “Our Slippery Earth: Nawa Philosophy in the Modern Age” available on Amazon.com. In it, I discuss basic themes of Nawa philosophy, and how these themes can be practiced in the modern age.

Click to Purchase

Kurly Tlapoyawa is an archaeologist, author, and ethnohistorian. His research focuses primarily on the interaction between Mesoamerica, Western Mexico, and the American Southwest. Kurly has lectured at UNLV, University of Houston, and Yale University on topics related to Mesoamerica. His recent book, “Our Slippery Earth: Nawa Philosophy in the Modern Age” was published in 2017. In addition to his work in Archaeology and Ethnohistory, Kurly is a professional stuntman with over 35 credits to his name.

Follow Kurly on twitter @KurlyTlapoyawa

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