The brass bands are playing again and the airworks (those fireworks with only the boom) are going off again, and the combis are filled with people carrying around a doll wrapped up and cradled like it’s a real baby. What’s going on?
All this is in preparation for the last hurrah of the holiday season — Día de la Candelaria.
Officially known as the Feast of Our Lady of Candelaria or Candlemas, February 2nd marks 40 days after Christmas and thus Catholics celebrate in memory of the presentation of Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem (Luke 2; 22-39 ) and purification of his mother, Mary, after childbirth (a requirement of the Law of the Old Testament – Lev 12; 1-8).
Like many Mexican celebrations though, this feast day represents a fusion of pre-Hispanic traditions and Catholic beliefs. It appears to have originated in Tenerife (Canary Islands), southwest of Spain, in the early 15th century and spread from there.
The celebration may actually be a vestige of an old Pagan tradition, since this date coincides with the eleventh day of the first month of the ancient Aztec calendar and the beginning of the agricultural cycle when offerings to the gods of rain and clouds (tlaloques) would have been made to assure a plentiful harvest. In many rural villages the inhabitants wear corn cobs to church to be blessed.
In Mexico, Dia de la Candelaria is an extension of the Christmas holiday season. (And you wondered why the Christmas decorations were still up in all their bedraggled splendor…) On Christmas Eve a statue of the niño Dios (baby Jesus) is placed in the nativity scene; on January 6th, Three King’s Day, the child is brought presents from the magi or kings; and on February 2nd, the statue is dressed in fine clothes and presented and blessed in the church (be sure to check out the link above to see what these dolls look like) after which it is placed in a niche where it remains the rest of the year.
Similarly, Mexican children receive gifts on Christmas Eve (the babe’s birth day) and on January 6th (when it is thought that the kings or wise men would have visited the Christ child.) Then on February 2, the doll is taken to church and whomever found a toy baby in their Rosca de Reyes (wreath of the kings) bread on January 6th, hosts a Candlemas feast consisting of tamales and atole (a thick gruel drink).
I find it interesting that February 2 also marks the mid-way point between the winter solstice and spring equinox which has long been thought to be a marker or predictor of the weather to come. In the US we call it Groundhog Day and according to tradition, if the ground hog sees his shadow, he goes back in his hole, representing 6 more weeks of winter; if not, spring is supposedly on its way. Often Punxsutawney Phil (Pennsylvania) and our own Wisconsin groundhog, Jimmy, will compare predictions and hopefully agree that the long, very cold winter will soon end.
Here are a couple of poems that show the connection between Candlemas and Groundhog Day.
If Candle-mas Day is bright and clear,
There’ll be two winters in the year.
If Candle mas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.
For a few laughs, watch your local channel (library or Netflix) for the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day. What is your favorite scene?