SUCHITOTO, El Salvador- Every May 3rd, the people of El Salvador celebrate a holiday called Dia de la Cruz — The Day of the Cross. It is a pre-colonial harvest celebration that has now co-opted a Christian overcoat which occurs right before the start of the rainy season. It is a harvest festival, and like many others like it around the world, it happens right at the point where the seasons turn towards their harshest — in this case, the rains have broke over El Salvador, the cultivation season has come to an end.
For this celebration, it is common for people to make or purchase crosses of saplings or, apparently, anything else that you can form a cross out of. Offerings of fruit are then placed before these crucifixes, which are themselves set up on little alters. They are then placed in front of the doors of homes. Throughout this day people are suppose to walk from house to house kneeling in front of the crosses and saying prayers.
An old man who often sits outside on the streets with a family that my wife and I usual stop and chat with on our rounds about town asked Chaya if she had put fruit in front of the cross.
My wife was confused, we had seen people walking around with little crosses earlier in the day, but she was not previously aware that it was for Dia de la Cruz.
The old may spoke with caution, “If you don’t put fruit in front of the cross the devil will take you.”
My wife is a Jew, she had never before heard of Christians defending themselves from devils with fruit. She asked me if I had ever heard of this, and even my Catholic boy upbringing had left me unaware of the Dia de la Cruz. But we both sought to find out what this holiday was all about.
The next day we asked the old lady who lives in our apartment building what this holiday was all about. She had a table with a white table clothe sitting out before her door. She had positioned a cross upon it that looked to be made out of a couple rolled up sheets of rolled up paper assembled together in proper cross constructing order. There was a collection of mangoes sitting before the cross. It was the day after Dia del la Cruz and it was evident that the sanctity of the day had began to pass as well: a bag of groceries and some other stray pieces of life junk were already encroaching upon the alter.
The old women explained the holiday to us. She told us that it is a day for people to offer fruit before a cross as a way of giving thanks to God for the harvest.
I then asked her if the offerings of fruit before the cross was suppose to keep the devil away. The old women grew exited and confirmed it, and told us that even on the television news the night before everyone was warned that if they did not put fruit before a cross that the devil would take them in the night.
We had already missed the boat, though we all seemed to have made it through the night more or less intact.
I tried to make up for it by offering the old woman’s cross a peparecha — a sweet bread whose — it was the only thing I had to give.
I withdrew a piece of the bright red painted sweet bread, whose name translates roughly to “slut,” from the plastic bag I was holding and made to set it upon the magoes that made up the offering upon the alter.
The old woman waved her hands back and forth quickly and wailed that I should not complete my action. The offerings before the cross need to be fruit, not a sweet bread called “slut.”
I withdrew my offering, and, at my wife’s directive, walked up to our room and found an orange. I then proudly placed the orange upon the alter. The old woman smiled.
“Would you like some mangoes?” the old woman offered while pointing to the alter.
There were around a half dozen perfect looking mangoes before the crucifix.
We hesitated, “But those are God’s mangoes,” my wife replied.
Both of us felt a little off removing offerings from an alter. Perhaps extensive bouts of traveling through the Buddha lands of Asia had made us weary of mere mortals eating the sweets and fruit that sit out as offerings to the higher Powers. Though this was not the case here in El Salvador.
“It is okay to eat God’s mangoes,” the old woman reassured us, as she brashly hobbled towards the alter and removed the offerings meant for God and reoffered them to a family of gringos.
We ate God’s mangoes.
Dia de la Cruz
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