Just another expat retiree in San Miguel. Photo by Nicholas Pippins

Combine the elaborate costumes of Halloween with the zany festivities of Carnival and what do you get? El Dia de los Locos, or Day of the Crazies: a mid-June holiday unique to the city that celebrates it, San Miguel de Allende.

Held on the first Sunday following June 13th, you can’t miss this all-day festival — it starts and ends with a resounding bang. The entire town is up by 6AM when cannon-like discharges boom forth, rattling windows — as they will continue to do throughout the day. Then sweet melodies of traditional mañanitas fill the air, verses sung to serenade St Anthony, the patron saint of San Miguel. Its roots as a religious festival ground the day's activities, from morning mass at the church of St Anthony to the mid-day religious procession that has evolved into a parade. An amazing parade. A parade that takes half the day and a parade route that goes on for miles.

Spectators gather by the thousands along the parade route to watch equal numbers of participants march and frolic, ride and play music on foot and on colorful floats. Elaborately costumed as clowns, Teletubbies, political figures, and pop stars, no two alike, participants dance to a cacophony of sounds. The pulsing party moves rhythmically through the streets, with parade participants on foot engaging spectators in brief dance steps, and spectators who line the streets moving to the beat of parade music.

As the parade winds through the historic part of San Miguel, along Calle Zacateros through el Centro and down Calle San Francisco to its finish on Calle Canal, those on floats throw almost half a ton of candy to those lining the streets.

At night the celebration continues. Large castillos, castles built for the day, hold firecrackers that send the festivities into the sky, painting the night sky with color. Partying continues late into the night as revelers move between the restaurants and bars dancing to the music on the streets as brilliantly colored sparks dance in the sky above.

Remarkably, El Dia de los Locos began as two holidays: The May celebration of Spanish St. Pascal Baylon, canonized in 1690, and the mid-June celebration of St Anthony of Padua, canonized in 1232. During the 18th century, Catholic priests introduced the cult of Spanish-born St. Pascal Baylon, patron saint of field and kitchen workers. Newly converted Mexicans celebrated the saint’s feast day by decorating themselves with tools of their trade as they danced in the streets to pagan music. To maintain distinctions between participants and spectators, some celebrants dressed as scarecrows and formulated characteristic dances which were described as “loco,” or crazy. Clown costumes eventually replaced scarecrow costumes, but the traditional “loco” music and dance remain. Originally, the feast day of St Anthony of Padua had its own dances, but the extraordinary popularity of St. Pascal Baylon’s dances eventually eclipsed St. Anthony’s. Gradually the two celebrations merged and are now celebrated as one.

San Miguel prides itself on intermingling old and new, Mexican and foreign. El Dia de los Locos similarly combines pagan roots and Christian celebration to create a fluid hybrid where tension might otherwise exist between religion and secular fun. In a city that takes its holidays seriously, possibly celebrating more religious and secular fiestas and festivals than any place else in Mexico, El Dia de los Locos, Day of the Crazies, is quintessential San Miguel de Allende.