El Dia de los Locos is a happening each June in San Miguel, Mexico, and only in San Miguel. Even though it is celebrated on San Antonio’s Day, the thousands of people cavorting in the streets dressed like clowns, politicians, cartoon characters, and monsters makes it look like anything but a religious feast day.
Similar to Mardi Gras and Carnaval, it’s a wild parade of costumed groups who throw treats and gifts to the crowds lining the streets. These more familiar festivals are kind of last freak-outs before the somber self-reflective and self-denial period of Lent, the forty days leading to Easter. It’s the last chance to party. So the origins are Catholic, even if now it’s a lot of other things in Rio, New Orleans, and Venice.
But in San Miguel de Allende, the costumed "Locos" are actually participating in a religious festival. Always on Sunday, the activities begin early and at the church of San Antonio, with a mass under a tent on the church steps to accommodate the huge crowds of participants.
Although dressed in all kinds of crazy costumes (none sexy and bare, however, unlike in Rio and New Orleans), most people are serious under their makeup and masks about why they are there, and in fact, are making a kind of pilgrimage. Winnies-the-Pooh, Spidermen, harem dancers, and robots are a strange sight on their knees inside the church to eyes unaccustomed to the tradition. It’s also weird and wonderful to see the groups pulsing to whatever pop music emenates from the truck/float ahead of them in the tiny crammed colonial streets of San Miguel. The visitor asks his companion as he wipes his sweaty brow, what planet are we on?
Throughout the year prayers are sent to San Antonio for help in finding things, anything from a lost memento to a boyfriend. These folks are offering their joy and thanks to the saint for helping them, it is their offering, and as most of them dance down the streets beneath rubber masks and heavy thick costumes under the hot sun at noon, it is also a penance and a sacrifice. And if their disguises make them anonymous, so much the better. The neighbors won’t suspect that it was more than allure that got Teresa engaged to that nice young man.