The Combat of Flowers in Leon, Guanajuato

Fumiko Nobuoka

The Combat of Flowers in Leon, Guanajuato

The Combat of Flowers in Leon, GuanajuatoIt is in the quest of a kiss that many young people gather in the main plaza of Leon, Guanajuato, on the eve of the 16th of September every year. Buy flowers from the local vendors at exorbitant prices, walk around the plaza and, like in a mating ritual, you search for a pretty face. If both agree to exchange flowers, the kiss ensues. There are women who are selective and only give a quick peck before disappearing into the crowd. And then there are those who lock onto the other in a languid passion that is likened to a sort of gnawing action that seems to last for hours.

The Combat of Flowers in Leon, GuanajuatoThe tradition harkens back to days of colonial Mexico, when young eligible men and women would gather around the kiosk and parade around in their Sunday best. Women would circle the kiosk in one direction while men, the other. The tradition is different from town to town. The smiles and gallantry that stem from a turn or two around the kiosk may lead in the prompt exit of the two in question to a quieter spot. In other towns, men give roses or other flowers. In many places around the provinces of Mexico, where there is still a kiosk, the tradition continues in this fashion.

The Combat of Flowers in Leon, GuanajuatoI, however, was not going to content myself with only knowing this part of the history and started investigating: why is it called the Combat of Flowers? Why does it happen in Leon? Why is it celebrated on the 16th of September, the evening of the celebration of Mexican independence, a historic event that is remembered year after year by Mexicans?

And as I wandered Leon, asking every single person I came across if they should know the reasoning behind the name, date and rationale, no one knew. As if everyone accepted that this tradition had always existed and asking about it was never really on the minds of anyone.

The Combat of Flowers in Leon, Guanajuato"The Combat of Flowers?" replied one woman, as I asked her about the origin of the name. "Isn't that because it's a war to see who gets your flower?" 'Unsatisfactory,' I thought and continued on my search. I had even wandered through the throng of people that had gathered to pucker up in the plaza with little result, save for a few photos and a gaggle of teenagers who eyed my hands steadily to see if I was game. Not willing to participate in what would otherwise be known as illegal activity of interacting with an underaged person, I took the round again and searched for someone who would be able to answer my question.

The Combat of Flowers in Leon, GuanajuatoI walked between groups of giddy teens, smiling from ear to ear, watching as one of their own steps forward in a scene that could have come from West Side Story. Everyone hoots and hollers as the two crane towards each other and connect. Merchants, street vendors and herds among herds of young men and women giggling amongst themselves, filled the lanes around the kiosk. Not one with any idea or intention of answering my question, not when flowers could be gotten. Elderly people sat with their families on benches, watching the whole affair, perhaps reveling in the youthful ambiance; perhaps reminiscing about the days when they themselves were young and silly.

The Combat of Flowers in Leon, GuanajuatoI was later told that this tradition occurs not only in the main plaza of Leon but also in Parque Hidalgo as well as down one of the main thoroughfares of the city, called Campestre Boulevard, where people drive up and down in cars and exchange kisses. I was quite put off by the lack of romanticism, seeing as that it seemed to me to be a drive thru for kisses.

As the night wore on, the vendors ran out of roses and started selling what looked to be pieces of bush. Desperate young men looking for as many kisses as they could get bought these twigs and shrubs, hoping to get lucky; hoping that the young lady wouldn't look down on their meager offerings.

The Combat of Flowers in Leon, GuanajuatoWell into the night, even from my hotel room, I could see men and women wandering around for that kiss. The throng of people had considerably thinned out and couples sat under trees, shading themselves from the street lamps and moonlight. People were leaving the plaza, carrying an armload of flowers or only the flower that they took with them. Peals of laughter and serenades conducted by an odd group or so wafted up through the air. I am still ignorant as to why this particular event happens but as the song goes, that a kiss is just a kiss, and knowing that it is a kiss for a rose, I think it is nice to be reminded that romantics still do exist.