Candles for Groundhog Day

It is the middle of winter and we humans have to have a reason to mark that fact. Though back home, Super Bowl commercials and the predictions of Puxatawney Phil or Jimmy (the Wisconsin ground hog) for a long cold winter or an early spring  are the topic of the day (though if you figure it out, both seem to be about 6 weeks away).

Here in Mexico, the holiday season is finally coming to an end with Dia de la Candelaria (Day of the Candles.) I cannot really add anything new so I am reposting this article from last year. If you have not seen it, the information is all new to you; if you have, I hope you enjoy the review. Or, just rent the movie and have a good laugh or two.

Dia de la Candelaria

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.

Nino Dios, Taxco, MexicoIn Mexico, Dia de la Candelaria is an extension of the Christmas holiday season. (And I 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 after which it is placed in a niche where it remains the rest of the year.

Rosca de Reyes

Rosca de Reyes

Mexican children receive gifts on Christmas Eve (the babe’s birth day) and on January 6th (the big day), 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).

Silver corn statue, Mexico Both are predominantly made with corn; another link to Aztec ceremonies.

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, cold winter will soon end.

Here are a couple of poems that show the connection between Candlemas and Groundhog Day.

From Scotland:

If Candle-mas Day is bright and clear,
There’ll be two winters in the year.

From England::

If Candle mas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.

Groundhog Day Video cvrFor a few laughs, watch your local channel (library or Netflix) for the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day.

What is your favorite scene?

Mexican Traditions – Three Kings Day

Band in the street, Festival of OUr Lady Guadalupe, Taxco, Mexico


The holiday season in Mexico just goes on and on. First there is the The Feast of Our Lady Guadalupe which begins on December 1st and culminates on December 12th with marching bands playing repetitive music, feverish dancing, and of course fireworks.

Las Posadas procession, Taxco, Mexico




Then on the 16th, Las Posadas start and the calles (streets) and barrios (neighborhoods) are filled with the sound of children singing and pinatas breaking, along with candlelit processions, and more fireworks.


Families gather for Christmas Eve and Christmas but unlike back home, these are only days for family to be together; no gifts under the tree to open — well maybe a small gift or two.

Tonight is the night that Mexican children most look forward to. They set out their shoes in eager anticipation of finding them filled with gifts in the morning. Three Kings Day, January 6th, marks twelve days after Christmas Day, when supposedly the three kings appeared before the baby Jesus and presented him with the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

At midnight, the sky will be punctuated with the sight and sound of fireworks and airworks (fireworks with only the boom), church bells will peal, and if they do not sleep though all that noise, children will open their gifts. The day will be marked with yet another family gathering where Rosca de Reyes (Wreath of Kings) bread will be eaten and whomever finds the baby Jesus in their piece gets to host the final holiday celebration, Dia de Candelaria, on February 2.

(To learn more about these Mexican traditions, follow the links above.)

Three Kings Day, Taxco, MexicoNo doubt there will also be another parade down my street. Can’t wait!



Three Kings Day — Mexican Traditions

In Mexico, Christmas Eve and Day are a time for family. Since the whole country has at least two weeks if not a month off school and work this time of year, the whole family comes from far and wide to gather around the dinner table on Christmas Eve and share Christmas Day together, for the most part quietly. The children may receive a small gift or two, mostly from visiting relatives, but Three Kings Day (January 6) is the big gift day for them.

Called Epiphany elsewhere, this is the close of the Feliz Navidad season that began on December 12 with the Festival of Guadalupe. The tradition holds that this is the day (12 days after Christmas) that the three kings (wise men or magi) arrived to present gifts to the infant Jesus.

So,imitating the gift giving of the three kings, Mexican parents present gifts to their children (and each other) on this day. The night before, children set out their shoes and in the morning they are filled with small gifts, (The children of Latin America, as well as Spain, receive their gifts from the three kings rather than from Santa Claus) though now days the gifts may appear under a Christmas tree.

It is interesting that in other parts of Europe (Russia and other Orthodox lands for example) that Father Christmas comes on January 6; that date having something to do with the change to the Julian calendar.

Three Kings Day is celebrated with the eating of a special bread, Rosca de Reyes (wreath of the kings). Baked as an oval, the loaf represents a crown and is decorated with colorful dried fruits and candies to symbolize jewels.

Rosca de Reyes

Rosca de Reyes

A doll figure is hidden inside, representing hiding Jesus from King Herod’s troops. (You might recognize this tradition as part of Mardi Gras celebrations when kings cake is served.)The person who gets the slice with the doll inside must host a party on the dia de candelaria (day of the candles or candle mass) on February 2. (More on that in February.)

Another Mexican tradition was also upheld, as I was awakened at midnight by firecrakers and cherry bombs going off in the callejon (alley) behind my house.