Dia del Niño

“When we see a pretty flower, we stop to look at it and smell it, right?”

My son keeps his face hidden. He gets shy when strangers gush at him.

“And seeing that flower makes us happy, right?”

He nods into my chest.

“Well, people in Mexico feel that way about children. When they see you, they want to touch you and look at you. And it makes them happy. Children make people happy.”

My son peeks up.

“Why?” he asks for the three-hundred-and-forty-third time that morning.

There is no Easter bunny in Mexico. Pascua is a holy affair (see my Good Friday post A Child Meets Jesus). But don’t feel sorry for the children of Mexico because they don’t get a basket full of jelly beans, chewy fowl, and chocolate eggs. The stores still display mountains of chocolate (and bicycles and dollies and games of every sort) each April. American kids get the Easter bunny, but in Mexico, the springtime celebration of all things adorable gets right to the point: April 30th is Dia del Niño.

In 1954, the United Nations called for a Universal Day of the Child. But Latin America was ahead of the game, Mexico in particular, where official celebrations of Dia del Niño began in 1916. And the celebrations keep getting more elaborate, or so say my friends who compare their memories of childhood with the expectations of their children.

Morelia certainly went all out this year.

Every plaza and park had city-run activities, with volunteers overseeing ring games and art projects or painting faces, city workers giving kids rides in cherry pickers, city gardeners helping kids transplant seedlings. And, as usual, the whole city was out for the festivities.

In the evening, things took a more somber turn with a procession honoring the Santo Niño de la Salud. Children dressed like angels rode a flatbed truck. Nuns sang over a squeaky sound system mounted on the roof of a truck. Prayers were read. A marching band played. In the crowd, children were dressed like the Santo Niño, in white with red velvet robes.

El Santo Niño de la Salud

But in Morelia’s Centro Histórico, there was more revelry. The usual Saturday night guitarists were replaced by a singing comedy routine in superhero costumes, and on the other side of the Catedrál, a kids’ quiz show was taking place under a huge tent (where free popcorn was being doled out). Clowns rode by on unicycles and the fairy mime that my son loves to the point of sadness was commanding a steady flow of coins in her tin bucket.

“Every day is Children’s Day,” my mother used to say when we celebrated Mother’s or Father’s Day. She says it again when we talked in the afternoon between events.

But is it?

I mean, I know parents feel like they go all out all the time. But as a culture—if so large a country as the U.S. can be accused of having one—so very few of us stop to smell the babies, as it were. Even us parents can forget to enjoy our children.

I hope that when I leave Mexico, I remember.

One more thing: I know that Easter bunny deliveries are a way that we instill a sense of magic in our children, but I’m not sure the fiction is worth it. There was plenty of magic on the streets of Morelia last Saturday—the magic that is beauty and the bonds of love and community—and no imaginary rabbit stole credit for any of it.

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