When I was in grade school, following dinner, I would go my neighbor’s house. They were an elderly couple that served me iced tea (making me feel very grown up) and we’d discuss all my first grade adventures at the Holy Name of Jesus (HNJ for those in the know). At one point they showed me a plastic donkey carrying a salt and pepper shaker they got in Mexico and it fascinated me. Speaking of nothing else they gave it to me and I treasured it for years. I never asked my mother to put it at the table knowing that since my older brothers were still living at home she had her fill of jackasses at dinner time.
Years later when Disney stores first opened with their mountains of stuffed Disney animals, I allowed my two toddlers pick any toy they liked. My daughter, as she still does a quarter century later, gravitated towards something blue. My son lunged for Eyeore, the donkey of note as being the only Winnie the Pooh character in desperate need of Prozac. “Oh no” I thought “Can a toddler be depressed?” It wasn’t until much later I realized my lad was the King of Tactile and chose Eyeore for his combination skin of terry cloth and flannel. He could endlessly run his fingers between Eyeore’s floppy ears.
Today donkeys, mules and burros are omnipresent in San Miguel both visually and in terms of lasting impact. Pass any Colonial Era fountain and place your forearms on it as if you were getting a bucket of water. You’ll soon find the indentations of years of forearms reaching in for buckets of water for their donkeys.
Perhaps nowhere are donkeys more visible than in miniature wood form sold all over the jardin. This reflects the legend that began during the Inquisition when San Miguel sponsored grand processions in mid-June for the feast of Corpus Christi. Corpus Chirsti, more than just being the home town of former Miss Corpus Christi, Eva Longoria, is a celebration of Christ’s presence in the communion wafer and wine.
The mid-day procession featured the upper balconies in centro spreading cloth to protect the crowd from the sun that, having Gaelic vampire skin, I wish we still did. (The large rolls of fabric were later used during the Revolution for bandages, blankets and shirts.) In the midst of one of these elaborate processions a local mule got on his elbows (knees?) when the communion wafer and wine came by indicating even an animal used for manual labor knows when God is around. This started the carving of toy mules that continues to this day and why the town hosts the International Homemade Toy Festival each June during Corpus Christi.
To give or receive a toy mule is considered a friendly joke on Corpus Christi. In addition, people with the name Manuel or Manuela (from mule and manual labor) celebrate their saint this same day.
Joseph Toone is the Historical Society’s short-story award winning author of the SMA Secrets book series. All books in the series are Amazon bestsellers in Mexican Travel and Holidays. Toone is SMA’s expert and TripAdvisor’s top ranked historical tour guide telling the stories behind what we do in today’s SMA. Visit HistoryAndCultureWalkin