By Mitzi Mayauel Fuentes
San Cristobal de Las Casas, Mexico, Jun 16 (EFE).- The Molina Diaz family has spent more than a century crafting small, handmade corn husk mules and traditional sweets for the Feast of Corpus Christi, also known in Mexico as the Day of the Mules, which is being celebrated this year amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and high inflation.
Every year in San Cristobal de Las Casas – a colonial city in the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas – 85-year-old Tomas de Jesus Molina Perez and his family prepare four months in advance to make those decorative items, which are made out of dried corn husks and occasionally stuffed with candy.
“My wife and her family are the ones who used to do the work of making the sweets and mules. I joined in when the tile making (manufacture of clay tiles for houses) no longer was putting food on the table,” Tomas de Jesus said in an interview with Efe on Thursday.
While folding the corn leaves with his hands, the man recalled his wife’s aunt telling him when they first met, “learn this trade so my niece and you can support yourselves.”
“It was a good option for me because tile making was over and my old age was making it difficult for me to move around and work,” he said.
Although crafting the corn husk mules is very simple, he said “not everyone has the desire to make them.”
And since the work is seasonal and the product is only sold once a year, he said “it’s not profitable.” The Molina Diaz family therefore decided to complement that craft with the preparation of handmade sweets that they sell year-round.
They makes around 500 mules of different sizes per day. Some of the figures are miniature creations just a few centimeters tall, while others stand 30 cm (1 foot) high.
All are made from dry corn husks, embroidery thread, wooden sticks and embellishments like small clay figurines, palm leaf baskets and regional homemade sweets.
The Covid-19 pandemic and a surge in inflation have made it much more difficult for this family to purchase the raw material they need for the mules, which are sold at a price ranging from 18-50 pesos ($0.90-$2.50), depending on how big and elaborately decorated they are.
Tomas de Jesus’ daughter, Teresa Molina Diaz, and some of his younger relatives – a granddaughter, great grandchildren and nieces – also have taken it upon themselves to keep that tradition alive.
Once the finishing touches have been put on the mules, they are sold in local markets and at stores and sweets fairs in nearby Chiapas cities such as Tuxtla Gutierrez – the state’s capital and largest urban area -, Comitan and Ocosingo.
The Feast of Corpus Christi dates back more than 700 years and venerates the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, which Catholics believe is the body of Jesus once the priest concentrates it during Mass.
It is commemorated on the first Thursday after Trinity Sunday (60 days after Easter).
In Mexico, the corn husk mules are given as gifts on that feast day as an expression of love and friendship, but they can also serve as a symbol of gratitude for abundance or a good harvest.
“It’s a tradition that the first evangelizers found, since the Aztecs would use mules to carry the initial fruits of their harvest and offer them to their deities,” Paloma Ines Arredondo Lozoya, municipal tourism director in San Cristobal de las Casas, told Efe.
Another version states that the tradition was brought to Mexico by the Spanish in 1526 and that the peasants would take those harvest offerings to Catholic churches and thank God for their abundance. EFE