The month of May in Catholic tradition belongs to Mary, mother of Jesus. In a number of countries, including the United States and Mexico, the same month also contains Mothers’ Day — a popular holiday set aside for celebrating all mothers. Here it’s on the second Sunday in May; in Mexico, on May 10.
In the late 1980s it was my good fortune to belong to a culturally mixed group who sang for Sunday Mass at the Cristo Rey Chapel on the Pascua Yaqui Reservation. In addition to those weekly duties, we would also sing at wakes, funerals, private fiestas, and other religious and sacred occasions. One year the leader of the group, Richard Morales, decided that it would be nice if we gave Mother’s Day serenatas de gallo — early morning “cock-crow serenades” to the wives and mothers of the group.
We would assemble around 1:30 on Sunday morning (this happened on American Mother’s Day) and proceed to the first house. There we would retune, creep up to what seemed an appropriate window, and start off with “Las Mañanitas” and “Las Mañanitas Tapatias.” We would then sing at least two other Mexican songs about mothers. Why a minimum of three songs? As Richard told me “We can’t leave the Holy Spirit out of it!” When we were through, someone would come to the door and thank us.
Sometimes we would be invited in for refreshments. I remember pan dulce, menudo, coffee, and an occasional shot of tequila “for the throat.” Wikipedia tells us that in Mexico the traditional refreshments are tamales and atole. I don’t know — I’ve never sung serenatas de gallo south of the border. Our route stretched from southwest Tucson up to Marana, so it would be around 7:30 when we would finally make it back to our house for breakfast. Then we’d get on the phone and sing to my mother, who lived in California.
Speaking of where and where not to sing, we used to tell each other how nice it was that none of our mothers and wives didn't live in gated communities in the foothills. The consensus of opinion was that in such a case while we might start off singing under someone’s window before dawn, we’d be likely to finish the song in the County Jail. One culture’s sentimental custom can be another culture’s public disturbance.
During the years we sang for our wives and mothers, we once or twice heard other groups in the distance, doing the same thing. Even then, our group looked on it as a sort of revival. I don’t know if folks still do it, but I suspect the lovely custom still hangs on, as it did in our day.
Happy Mother’s Day.