Mexican people, particularly those in older, more established regions, take their Catholic faith very seriously. Missionaries brought over from Spain started colonizing and converting native Mexicans during the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Today, towns in Oaxaca combine traditional village names with each town’s patron saint to give a long, but well-meaning, name to their specific location.
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The saint’s name (in Spanish) is always placed before the town (example, Santa Maria del Tule, San Pablo Villa de Milta) but rarely is it ever placed on road signs or maps. In fact, while the town’s name and its patron saint are very important to the Oaxacan people, the towns are simply known and discussed by their native name (Tule and Milta; to name a few).
Each village’s saint is the centerpiece of a town’s square or church and is maintained by a volunteer caretaker who feels this is his/her religious calling. When they are felt called to serve, the future caretakers volunteer their family’s time and savings to maintain and service these statues; living onsite and surrendering their year to dedication and service.
If visiting one of these towns during a religious feast day, the statue will be decorated with flowers and visitors will be invited to sample a variety of foods. While not required, monetary donations are appreciated, as it costs more to maintain the statue for a year than what the average Mexican worker makes in yearly wages.
To locate the best time to visit, first find the patron saint of the town you wish to visit. Next, perform an Internet search and locate its designated Feast Day. Feasts last around three to four days, with the major celebration occurring on the official, recognized feast date. For Catholics and even those who are not, visiting during this time of year allows travelers to experience a region-specific holiday that combines history, religion and years of tradition.