Puerto Vallarta, Mexico – The ancient art of glass-blowing is still practiced in several Mexican towns. In Tlalpujahua and Chignahuapan, creating unique and beautiful glass Christmas ornaments called esferas navideñas is a large part of these towns’ economies. They also draw hundreds of visitors each year to enjoy the beauty and to buy ornaments.
My friend Isabella grew up in Chignahuapan, one of 111 Magic Towns in Mexico designated such for its “cultural, historical, gastronomical, or natural treasures deemed exceptionally special and meaningful to Mexico’s heritage.”
It is a town of some 20,000 inhabitants set in the beautiful mountainous landscape of the Sierra Madre in the state of Puebla. First inhabited by Chichimecs and later the Aztec, it officially became a municipality in 1874, when Spanish missionaries began to settle in the area. She and her two boys took me to visit one of the largest workshops and I was amazed.
All the glass spheres are blown and painted by hand in this two-story building. On the first floor, there were dozens of artisans each blowing their own style of spheres. A huge furnace held hundreds of finished pieces ready for the final firing. Upstairs were rows and rows of tables loaded with the finished painted ornaments drying and boxes ready for packing and shipping. Isabella’s boys helped put packing boxes together!
The making of glass ornaments is thought to have started when José Rafael Muñoz brought the art and profit of glassmaking from the state of Michoacán to Puebla sometime in 1970. Now, the majority of the townsfolk produce over 70 million glass spheres in more than 200 hundred workshops every year. These skilled families of sopladores de vidrios blow about 400 spheres a day per person.
Fortunately, Chignahuapan being situated in the mountains is cool in the summer when we visited. Imagine the heat produced in these workshops! Glass blowing is done all year round, especially in the summer when orders start coming in from all over the world for the holiday season. The millions of spheres are also shipped internationally and have ended up in some very famous places including St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City and the US White House.
Stopping in the retail showroom on our way out, I had to buy a box of assorted ornaments! They made it all the way back to Vallarta and still grace my tree every Christmas, bringing back memories of my visit to this lovely Pueblo Mágico.
Sandra Cesca has lived in Puerto Vallarta for 12 years. She is a cultural tour guide with her own small business: Puerto Vallarta Walking Tours. She is also a freelance writer and cultural photographer whose work can be found on Your Cultural Insider and Sandra Cesca Photography. Contact her: sun4sandra(at)gmail.com.