When You Turn three..

Yesterday,
Esther & Daniel brought an invitation by.
Daniel is the nephew of my neighbor Petra.
Esther is the daughter of the Norteno band.
They play traditional music for dancing and singing at Petra’s parties.
It is the third birthday
Of their daughter Monserrat.
The invitation looks like the top of a birthday cake

They had told me about this party last month,
So I knew but had forgotten until she dropped the invitation off.
I couldn’t quite figure it out though because first of all,
I had forgotten her girl’s names,
Which in a family the size of Petra’s,
It’s not surprising, and second,
I could not figure out from reading it
What a three year old would be graduating from.

Then on the back..
An invitation from Daniel and Esther
To assist them in a mass of thanksgiving
At the Templo de la Salud at exactly 4pm Today.
Followed by a gathering at their house afterward.

So, when you turn three,
You are presented to the church.

You wear a very fancy ‘crinolina’ hoop skirt dress,
A gold crown and carry a gold wand in the shape of a chalice.
I didn’t know this but according to Petra, my neighbor,
This is something you do when your child turns three


I arrived at the church just after the service began.
A very old priest was presiding in a monotone.
I could see Monserrat and another young woman with her.
In my head, I am trying to put two and two together.
Is that her madrina? An aunt?  A sister?
Does a madrina give away a three year old to god?
The parents were off to either side, so I couldn’t tell.
I gave up thinking about it and took a few photos,
A video of the best part,
The priest singing in a truly wonderful voice.


At the end of the service, the priest came forward,
Sprinkled holy water on Monserrat,
Crossed himself,
Crossed her,
Crossed himself,
Sprinkled ‘the madrina’
Crossed the ‘madrina’
Sprinkled the parents,
Crossed the parents
Everyone should be good and sopping wet by now
As he is using something like a gold ladle to do this.

Photos are taken and everyone leaves the church.
Outside, Elvia and Elvira, Petra’s daughters are talking.
I pull out my invitation and ask about the graduation part.
What is a three year old graduating from?
They both laughed and said no,
Monserrat is only turning three.
At three you are presented to God.
Her sister Cristina (Daniela on the invitiation),
The young woman I thought was a madrina,
Just graduated the primaria – like our 6th grade.
Normally she has a presentation with her entire class,
At the church when you graduate la primaria.
But since it was her sister’s birthday,
She was also presented individually with her sister.

So now it’s beginning to make sense.
There are two sisters having presentations today.
One for turning three, one for graduating.
Which explains the invitation.
So there I am, thinking hmmm..
I have a present for Monserrat,
But not for Cristina,
I run across the street, where there happens to be
A nice little gifty shop and buy a little gift that they wrap up.
And off we go to the party where we are served
Home made chicken mole
Mexican red rice,
Fresh salsa
Carnitas
On a styrofoam plate,
With a beer.
Every table has a white tablecloth
Plus two giant bottles of soda.
It was delicious.

There is a round of food,
Served by waiters wearing black and white.
This is new for me, waiters at a home party
A mesero service from Comonfort.
There is a first round of people.
A first round of food,
When everyone has eaten,
It’s like a notice for the second round.
Another group comes in,
Everyone eats,
A new group comes in
More food is served.
It gets very noisy and very hot.
Everyone is sweating and fanning themselves
With wiped out styrofoam plates.

Elvia,
Whose husband was murdered earlier this year,

(Written about in a previous post) -begins to cry.
She says that one moment she’s fine.
Then she sees everyone with their families,
Of which she will never have again.
And she can’t help but cry.
She is having to sell Jesus’ things for money to live.
She is now cooking meals out of her house
On weekend nights to make extra money.
This is on top of her full time job,
Which only pays 800 pesos a week.
At today’s exchange rate,
That is $59.98 USdollars
With five children to care for.
As if that isn’t enough,
The trial has begun
Which she must attend.
Everyone is sympathetic,
And more than a few of us
Get tears in our eyes too.

Lupita, her 4 year old imp of a daughter,
Comes over makes faces at us,
Laughs, and runs away.

She told me that her father isn’t gone,
He is hiding under her bed every night
To talk to her.

Finally, the cakes are brought out,
One for Monserrat, one for Cristina,
Except that the cake for Cristina says ‘Joanna’ on it.
Is it Daniela, Cristina, Ana Cristina, or Joanna?
In this family, I may never get all the names straight.

Moserrat’s cake says ‘Monse’ which is her nickname.
The songs are sung, and now,
I am familiar with the routine.
That there is a song,
After which she is expected
To smash her face into the cake.
I would have loved that when I was a kid,
A one time a year chance to put your face in a cake.
But for Monserrat, she is too shy and too young
For all the attention she is getting.
She slinks back into her mother’s arms, shaking her head no.
No one makes her do it.
More songs are sung, the cake is cut,
The waiters take over and the kids line up.

As the cake is being eaten,
Esther’s father and brothers come up the stairs,
Playing their instruments and singing – the music has arrived.
The next round begins.
Tables are moved away,
People get ready to dance.
In case anyone wonders if the traditional music of Mexico,
It is alive and well,
I can tell you that at least here,
It still is.

VIDEO TO COME…



2 thoughts on “When You Turn three..”

  • Suzanne,

    The holy water sprinkler is called an aspergillum in Latin and in English but in Spanish it is called and “hisopo” (ee-SOH-poh). About smashing the face into the cake tradition…it is customary for the person in whose honor the fiesta is given to take the first bite out of the cake directly by just using their mouth. The guests usually start chanting “mordida, mordida, mordida” (“bite, bite, bite”). When the person leans over to take a bite quite often some wag standing behind them will push their face into the cake. That is why before someone bends over to take a bite they try to look around to see who is behind them. Even Moms and Dads ares suspect 🙂

  • Thanks for the clarification Bob – you’d think an old ex catholic would remember things but I think I must have blocked them out.

    Re the cake thing – you’re right about someone waiting behind them – I’d keep my eyes open behind me too. Especially in the family I grew up in!

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