VERACRUZ, Mexico — For Jarochos, the people of Veracruz, Mexico, it is essential to celebrate the new year’s arrival with family and friends.
Due to the pandemic, the yearly ritual of visiting with friends at the terraces of the main square’s restaurants may not happen. Given COVID-19 restrictions on crowds and social distancing, large gatherings are a health concern.
In the past, the tradition has helped Jarochos build a cohesive community.
Every December 31, hundreds of parishioners gather at the restaurants’ terraces, waiting for a moment to greet and hug each other before the year ends. People begin showing up around noon, as those who arrive after 1:00 p.m. might not find a place to toast the new year.
By 2:00 p.m., the place is so crowded that people can hardly walk. The diners’ tables almost touch. The talks, laughter, and music combine in the bustle of a folk festival.
“I celebrate with my friends before the New Year’s dinner,” said Mariela Santos Carvajal. “We coordinate ourselves several days in advance, since that day, all the restaurants are full. To secure a table, it is mandatory to buy two bottles.”
Visiting with friends at the restaurants’ terraces is so popular that politicians swing by, waving to everybody, even their opponents. All rivalries are forgotten for the celebration. Waiters can barely keep up with the diners. Some restaurants might run out of glasses or ice. But nothing will stop Jarochos’ joy.
“Usually, we are at the restaurant for about six hours, talking and remembering important dates of the year. The purpose is to have a good time before the year finishes,” Santos Carvajal said.
While people visit each other, El Viejo (the old guy) wanders around the tables, dancing and collecting money. Dressed as an older adult and wearing a mask, this traditional character symbolizes the year that is ending. People interact with him as if at a carnival.
Snack vendors offer their products, ranging from peanuts, pepitas (pumpkin seeds,) chickpeas, fava beans, and charales (small fried fish) to cheese. They carry lemon-pickled habanero peppers to spice them up.
Marimba livens up the moment. Smiles multiply to its rhythm until 6:00 or 7:00 p.m., when people leave for their homes and a family dinner.
The celebration usually ends with Jarochos enjoying the sunrise over the sea at the Veracruz-Boca del Río Coastal Boulevard.
“Going to the portals is like warming up our engines for the long New Year’s night,” said Santos Carvajal. Hopefully, in 2021, the tradition will resume, as bustling and joyful as ever.
(Translated and edited by Gabriela Olmos. Edited by Melanie Slone and Fern Siegel)