According to a mixture of oral history and legend, during the War of the Castes a group of Mayans commanded by Cecilio Chi descended upon the village of Saban, planning to kill all of the whites and mestizos living there. Fleeing inhabitants sought refuge in the local church, however, their hiding place was soon discovered and the machete-wielding warriors took the lives of many of the villagers.
Among the wounded survivors was a young man by the name of Carimiro Cardenas who had weathered the attack with a small wooden cross clutched in his hands. Cardenas believed that the tiny crucifix had saved his life and made a firm promise that once he found safety and a new home, he would organize a yearly religious festival and that his descendants would continue the tradition.
This sacred holiday originally began on April 23rd with a prayer vigil at dawn, followed by daily morning and evening novenas leading up to May 3rd. On that day, the faithful perform the solemn baile de las cabezas de cochino, which literally translates to dance of the pigs' heads. The heads are a sacrificial offering to God in that He was the first to sacrifice for his people through his suffering on the cross.
Since its founding in 1848, the Holy Cross Festival has continued to be the heart of what is now a larger non-religious festival called La Feria del Cedral. Descendants of the mostly Spanish families who founded the villages of San Miguel and El Cedral continue to participate annually in the Baile de las Cabezas de Cochino, while "newcomers" enjoy a wide variety of activities, including sports and cultural events, rodeos, folkloric dancing, live music and horse racing.
While the island of Cozumel has changed greatly over the years, Cedral Festival (Festival de Cedral) continues to signify over 165 years of tradition that began with the promise of a grateful campesino from Saban. It is held in the small town of El Cedral located on the southeastern end of the island. The event is comprised of fairs, lot's of traditional foods, rodeos, bullfights and cock fights, horse racing and there will be lots of music and dance competitions.
So if you are here on the island in late April or early May, you need to take a break from the beach activities and journey into the jungle to experience firsthand this tradition that has continued for so many years. Who knows, you might find a unique souvenir or trinket at the fair (or with enough tequila, you might even enter and win the dance contest)!