San Jose Celebrates Aztec New Year

Community organization Calpulli Tonalehqueh hosts 20th annual gathering at fairgrounds
This participant in last year's Mexica New Year celebration wears ceremonial Aztec garb. Photo by Margaret Gutierrez

The Aztec new year is fast approaching and Calpulli Tonalehqueh, a cultural group based in San Jose, is gearing up for its 20th annual Mexica New Year celebration.

Calpulli Tonalehqueh, which translates to "community of guardians who accompany the sun" in the Náhuatl language, aims to promote and educate the community about indigenous Mexican—or Mexica (pronounced Me-chi-ka)—culture.

The event will feature traditional Aztec songs, prayers and dances. The commemoration will begin with a sunrise ceremony to highlight one of the four principal elements of life—fire.

"We always do a sunrise ceremony, because it is most important that we begin by celebrating the elements," says Pedro 'Aquihua' Perez, a member of the Calpulli Tonalehqueh organizing committee. "The oldest element, which is fire, is represented by the sun. We honor that by having a ceremony that allows us to all focus, share energy and receive the sun as it comes up from the East."

March 12 is considered the start of the Aztec calendar year, and the celebration is usually held the night before, which is the equivalent of New Years Eve.

The upcoming Aztec new year marks the beginning of the Six Rabbit cycle. According to Perez, this transfer between last year's Five House cycle to this year's Six Rabbit is an important transition, as Six Rabbit signifies abundance, community and prosperity.

The ceremony will also feature more than 30 vendors showcasing handcrafted folk art, jewelry, clothing and musical instruments. Food vendors will have traditional corn-based Aztec foods for guests to sample.

Additionally, there will be a number of booths where people can get answers to pressing immigration questions and learn about the history of the Aztecs.

Perez says, San Jose's Mexica New Year celebration is the largest in the United States. Perez notes that the event used to draw an just few hundred guest but has "now blossomed and grown" to attract approximately 10,000 guest over the span of two days.

This year's attendees will see a new feature at the ceremony—a traditional ritual prayer called Voladores De Papantla. This will be a first in the the 20-year history of the event. During the prayer four men are hung from an 80-foot pole while spinning as one man sits on the top.

Mexica New Year
Sat, Mar 10-11, $Free
Emma Prusch Farm Park, San Jose

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