Today is the Festival of Our Lady of Guadalupe, probably the biggest religious festival in all of Mexico. Hundreds of thousands travel to the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City where supposedly the virgin Mary appeared to a simple peasant, named Juan Diego, on December 9 and December 12, 1531.
As the legend goes, Mary told Juan to ask the bishop to build a church on Tepeyac Hill but the bishop needed proof of Juan’s encounter and asked for a miracle. Juan returned to the hill to find roses where previously only cacti had grown. Juan Diego showed the roses to the archbishop and revealed an image of the Lady of Guadalupe she emblazoned on his cloak (this cloak is on display at the Basilica), convincing the bishop of the miracle so the church was built. An little detail I find interesting is that Mary supposedly spoke in the indigenous Nauatl language, causing many indigenous people to convert to Catholicism.
The festival actually starts on December 1st when ardent believers begin their pilgrimage, often by foot, bicycle, burro, or as I saw today, horseback to Mexico City or any town (like Taxco)with a church in honor of Guadalupe. Some show their devotion by arriving to the church on their knees. Children often wear authentic costumes, while adults wear clothing imprinted with images of the virgin and carry candles and icons. Cars and trucks are decorated with images, three-dimensional icons, or mini altars honoring Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico. Click here for pictures.
The main celebration, as I noted in yesterday’s post, begins the night before the feast day (December 12) with bands marching solemnly through town playing pretty much the same song (maybe two)over and over. Gathering a crowd as they march, the processions eventually lead to the Church of Guadalupe far up the mountain beneath the Cristo statue. There the music continues with fireworks and airworks (fireworks with only the boom)adding to the cacophony. Often, conchero dancers (the name probably comes from the word concha, meaning “shell,” suggested by their mandolin-shaped instruments made of armadillo shells) often in colorful traditional dress (blending indigenous traditions with the Catholic celebration), offer their art to the virgin by furiously dancing to the endlessly repeated accompaniment. The celebration continues into the wee hours of the morning, with a midnight mass, church bells pealing and more fireworks and booms, ending about 1 am.
The following day, December 12, the festival continues from morning to night with more music, dancing, feasting, and of course, fireworks.
I wandered downtown to, as a Mexican friend puts it, “see the show,” but other than a good sized band of cabello hombres (men on horses) carrying their Guadalupe pennant and saying something over a loud speaker (which I could not understand) I did not see anything unusual. It just seemed a little like the day after Thanksgiving back home, with lots of people wandering around and shopping. Of course I did not go to the top of the mountain where the church is located either.
Now that the sun is going down, the bands and fireworks are becoming more prominent again.