Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Noche de Rabanos
Every 23rd of December since at least 1897, Oaxaca has celebrated an unsung edible root vegetable in a typically unique way. The Night of the Radishes heralds the Christmas break, filling Oaxaca's Zócalo with stands displaying scenes carved from oversize red radishes, or whole dioramas of intricately folded “totomoxtle” (dried corn husks). Families, visitors and tourists alike pass dozens of these exhibitions and marvel at the imagination and skill employed to contrive Zapotec dancers or a skeletal bride and groom.
The festival was inaugurated by the Mayor 112 years ago, but its beginnings reach further than that. Vendors selling salted fish and other foods after Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve would carve radishes to attract families to their tables. The radishes became more and more elaborate, garnished and prettied with onions, tomatoes and eventually, “flor inmortal” (brightly colored straw flowers). Housewives would search out the most skilfully carved to dress their Christmas Eve tables.
Three days proceeding the event, the knives are drawn as these radishes are pulled from the ground. As the sculpting starts, the radishes are sprayed repeatedly to ensure they look their best come the festival. Most of the carvers are themselves radish farmers, responsible for these huge vegetables which can reach up to six kilos – a little different to your average table radish. At this size, deformity is the norm and skilled carvers see immediately the soul dwelling inside the radish. And along with steady hands, this sculptor's imagination can grant a Christmas wish: a good cash prize accompanied by a village's pride.