by Joseph Toone
When I was in grade school, following dinner, I would go my neighbor’s house. They were an elderly couple that served me iced tea (making me feel very grown up). We’d discuss all my first grade adventures at the Holy Name of Jesus (HNJ for those in the know). At one point they showed me a plastic donkey carrying a salt and pepper shaker they got in Mexico and it fascinated me. Speaking of nothing else, they gave it to me and I treasured it for years. I never asked my mother to put it at the table knowing that since my older brothers were still living at home she had her fill of jackasses at dinnertime.
Years later when Disney stores first opened with their mountains of stuffed Disney animals, I allowed my two toddlers pick any toy they liked. My daughter, as she still does a quarter century later, gravitated towards something blue. My son lunged for Eyeore, the donkey of note as being the only Winnie the Pooh character in desperate need of Prozac. “Oh no” I thought “Can a toddler be depressed?” It wasn’t until much later I realized my lad was the King of Tactile and chose Eyeore for his combination skin of terrycloth and flannel. He could endlessly run his fingers between Eyeore’s floppy ears.
Today donkeys, mules and burros are omnipresent in San Miguel both visually and in terms of lasting impact. Pass any Colonial Era fountain and place your forearms on it as if you were getting a bucket of water. You’ll soon find the indentations of years of forearms reaching in for buckets of water for their donkeys.
Perhaps nowhere are donkeys more visible than in miniature wood form sold all over the jardin. This reflects the legend that began during the Inquisition when San Miguel sponsored grand processions in mid-June for the feast of Corpus Christi. Corpus Chirsti (more than just being the home town of former Miss Corpus Christi, Eva Longoria) is a celebration of Christ’s presence in the communion wafer and wine.
The mid-day procession featured the upper balconies in Centro spreading cloth to protect the crowd from the sun. Given my Gaelic vampirish skin, I wish that tradition continued. But the large rolls of fabric were later used during the Revolution for bandages, blankets and shirts. In the midst of one of these elaborate processions a local mule got on his knees when the communion wafer and wine came, so by indicating that even a beast of burden knows when God is around. This started the carving of toy mules that continues to this day and explains why the town hosts the International Homemade Toy Festival each June during Corpus Christi.
To give or receive a toy mule is considered a friendly joke on Corpus Christi. In addition, people with the name Manuel or Manuela (from mule and manual labor) celebrate their saint this same day
Joseph Toone is Amazon's bestselling author of the San Miguel de Allende Secrets series of books and TripAdvisor's best rated historical walking tour guide. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit History and Culture Walking Tours or JosephTooneTours.com, also on FaceBook.
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