Los Muñecos Viejos (The Old Dolls)

By Mari Pintkowski

While you were bringing in the new year with a champagne toast, a bit of confetti and a kiss between loved ones, my Mayan neighbors were burning the muñecos (dolls) they had created with clothing discards, a bit of stuffing, a ball or pumpkin for a head, and some empty beer or tequila bottles.

A few days before the 31st of December, these curious characters began to appear in our pueblo, Macario Gomez (Km 20 Tulum-Cobá Road), in front of homes and stores along the main road and on the back streets. I snapped a few photos and set out to find out the origin and significance of these interesting life-size dolls.

I talked with our workers from the pueblo and was told that this ritual is not specifically a Mayan custom, but perhaps more colonial in origin, but no one knew for sure from where or when it started. The one answer I received in common was that the muñecos represented the old year, el año Viejo, and on the last day of the year the dolls would go up in flames at midnight. The burning symbolized letting go of the events and problems of the past year and preparing for a new beginning.

Our gardener, Jose, added that the muñecos often resembled a person or an unpopular group of people such as the police, politicians, drunks, or even someone in the pueblo who was not well liked. With a mischievous smile, he pointed out that the life-size doll in front of one store was dressed just like an annoying old man in Macario Gomez, down to the hat he wore each day. I noted that each muñeco was adorned with at least one empty bottle of beer or tequila.

I rode around the neighborhoods the next day to see if there were any remains from the burnings the night before, and found nothing.

kids in Macario

The following week, while I was hanging up a string of colorful butterflies in a tree on our garden paths, I thought about how the butterfly became a symbol of a new beginning for my husband, Lou, and me when we moved from Colorado to Tulum six years ago. We even dedicated the Bed & Breakfast we built and currently operate (La Selva Mariposa, the jungle butterfly) to these mystical winged creatures.

I guess Lou and I are not the only ones who have a symbol to represent important changes in our lives.

To read more of Mari Pintkowski’s articles about the area, go to www.sac-be.com or order her book about their adventure moving to Mexico, Embarking on the Mariposa Trail, on www.amazon.com. She also has a new children’s book called Molly the Gecko Hunter, (by Moe Mulrooney) about their dogs and life at La Selva Mariposa, www.laselvamariposa.com.