The sounds of hammers and mallets coming from the catty-corner house-in-progress have been replaced today by the boom of fireworks overhead. The albañiles (often translated as "masons," the word really encompasses a much broader range of construction work and its varied specializations), aren't taking advantage of the view toward our patio's potted mint, rosemary and cat grass. They're taking advantage of their 24 hours to celebrate. Being the 3rd of May, it's the Día del Albañil, when construction workers across the country set down their tools in exchange for a cup of something refreshing, soaking in the day set aside in their honor: those millions of laborers who--many as likely to send out a cat call as any construction worker in the states--put the roofs over millions of Mexico's heads.
This is serious business, as the continuous bursts of the cohetes can attest. Copious drinks are poured and lifted with toasts of "¡salud!" while plates are piled high from the various offerings on the table. Most often celebrated at the site of their current work, the day may also celebrate at home, and a good many will eventually fill the bars, cantinas and pulquerías close by. It's a delicious way to be grateful for a break, grateful for paid work and safety on the job, and grateful for the satisfaction of a finished product that may either loom near or remain far in the hopeful distance.
This gratefulness has other roots spreading both through the day and through the history of the country and Catholicism. May 3 is also the Día de la Santa Cruz--the day once appearing on the liturgical calendar to commemorate Saint Helen's discovery of Christ's cross in the city of Jerusalem. By 1970, the day was no longer an official religious feast, but it's connection in Mexico with the albañiles was already far too deep, and the Vatican made a concession to the country that allowed Holy Cross Day to continue.
The ties between Cross Day and Mexico's albañiles is said to be this: "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." Decorated crosses had formed a much older part of Spanish tradition in the day's observance, and whether or not the albañiles began celebrating the day as their own as a result of this story, the truth is that today, the cross and construction are inextricably tied.
Those grouped together at their construction sites, hosted by the lead engineers and architects, still fashion a cross together, often from wood coming from their own materials, and sometimes decorated with flowers and colored paper. The head albañil is then asked to place it prominently over the work, an offering and a talisman from and for those who are linked to its construction. Patricio's good friend, Enrique, has engineered a large addition to a school not far up San Pedro's main street. I'm sure that at least a few of the fireworks are coming from that direction, shooting up past the cross that's already been nailed to the facade.
In the school's case, the construction spells prosperity both economically and intellectually for a number of people. But prosperity also fits in strangely with the wee, starry hours of May 3, as well. Over a late plate of quesadillas last night, Patricio remembered that buried coins or treasure are rumored to emanate a luminous, gaseous light above their hidden spots during the hours before the sun comes up. Uncovering such a find--from caches of Spanish gold to riches secreted away during the Revolution--would certainly make anyone, whether Catholic or albañil or both or neither, most grateful indeed.