Tribute to the Workers: Dia de Cruz Celebrated

Tribute to the Workers: Dia de Cruz Celebrated    

Tara A. Spears

 Although Mexico honors all working men and women with an official holiday on May 1, Labor Day, the trades and construction industry tend to celebrate on May 3. Locally, the construction workers as well as government, bank and school employees had a day off from work to relax. However, on Cross Day the construction workers did put in a full day but it included beer and bar-b-que provided by the boss.

 Many crews fasten a brightly decorated cross with crepe paper flowers and streamers onto the uppermost section of the building, continuing the tradition that began with the building of churches by the Spanish in the 1500’s. In some areas, the workers will burn pungent incense, besides there being music and fireworks to frighten away any evil spirits that might be loitering.

In the 21st century, one can often notice puffs of smoke dotting the sky to mark the construction site. The crews of workers, who love to release sky rockets and noise making firecrackers instead of hauling concrete in the hot sun, probably no longer remember that originally the fireworks were to clear the area of dangerous spirits. Over the centuries, masons came to make this their own celebration, and they and their families now have a special feast on this day.  In some areas May 3rd is called Mason day, rather than Dia de la Santa Cruz. As one local worker explained, “That day, the architects or owners of the construction invite us for lunch and a few beers… and that’s how they honor us on our day.”

If the patron is deeply religious, he might invite a blessing of the work site. In some areas, the Catholic church will have a special service to provide a blessing of the colorfully decorated crosses which are later carried in procession by the bricklayers and masons. This special mass asks for the protection of the workers on the job, gives thanks for the workers’ safety and success during the previous year, and asks for continued good projects, conditions and salaries in the coming year.

As part of the traditional Day of the Holy Cross celebration on May 3, construction workers place a decorated cross on the roof of their current project. Work ends at noon, when the patron, the owner of the project, begins the next phase of the festival with tequila toasts, known as copitas. The owner toasts the success of the project and the health and happiness of the crew. He also provides a comida (midday meal). This reflects the pre-Columbian custom of placing food and drink on specially constructed altars to dedicate new buildings, and to please the gods. Carne Asada, thinly sliced beef, is prepared onsite on a grill by one of the workers. The grilled meat will be served with beans, guacamole, Salsa Mexicana, (very, very hot chile sauce,) and mounds of tortillas and plenty of cold beer.

Mexican Labor Day and Dia de Cruz are intended to be an annual national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of the country. For any nation, its success is the cumulative result of many hard working minds and hands rather than the figurehead in the capital. It is good that the workers are recognized and for them to be able to take pride in what they do.