Thursday, December 12, 2013

Feliz Navidad En Mexico

                You may have been expecting to see the holidays in Greece here, but I have decided to be timely and instead bring you the holidays in Mexico, for reasons I shall get into later.
                So, Mexico. Our neighbor to the south, and the neighbor with that has brought us the most delicious cuisine, at least until poutine really catches on here in the States. Mexico has a ton of holidays they celebrate during this time of the year, all of them tied closely to Catholicism, with some native elements present. The holidays typically begin around December 12th, and last until January 6th, but aren’t completely finished until February 2nd.
                We’ll start with a somewhat related, somewhat unrelated holiday, St. Nicholas Day, falling on December 6th. The celebration of one of Christianity’s most beloved saints is not a particularly large part of the Mexico’s heritage, but it’s worth mentioning as St. Nicholas would become the basis for Sinterklaas, which was the basis for our Santa Claus. There is a fiesta in San Nicolas de Ibarra, however. A statue of San Nicolas is carried in a procession throughout the city, starting on November 28th, lasting until the 6th. The procession is accompanied by music and fireworks, ending at a church with a special mass, and more fiesta-ing.

                The biggest day in the Mexican holiday season is El Dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe, or the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The Virgin of Guadalupe is another name for the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus in Christianity for our readers who do not come from an Abrahamic background. The image of the Virgin of Guadalupe is a ubiquitous, highly revered religious and cultural symbol. It’s a symbol of Mexican nationalism, and was used in Mexico’s fight for independence. It’s the symbol the unifies Mexicans, and ties them to their past.
                Why is that? It goes back to the beginnings of Christianity in Mexico. Shortly after the Aztec capital fell to the conquistadors, missionaries arrived. One of their first converts was a man named Juan Diego. One day, when crossing a hill for mass, he saw a blinding light, and the heard some out-of-this-world music. The source for the awesome light and sound show was a dark-skinned woman, who identified herself as none other than the Virgin Mary. Mary asked that a church be built on the hill, and wanted that message given to the bishop.
                Juan Diego obliged, but the bishop was skeptical, and asked that he bring proof of the encounter. The next time Juan Diego crossed the hill, the Virgin Mary again appeared. He explained the situation, and Mary asked that he take roses from the normally barren hill to the bishop as proof. Juan Diego gathered up some roses in his tilma, and brought them before the bishop. When he opened it, the roses spilled out, but beneath them was the miraculous image of the Virgin Mary. The bishop apologized for his skepticism, and the church was built. The tilma, and the image on it, remain to this day, though the church has been rebuilt a few times since then.

                One of the main ways that the holiday is celebrated is through pilgrimage to the church to see the image. The church is now a huge, modern Basilica, located in the north of Mexico City. Many take the last few meters of their pilgrimage on their hands and knees, and will ask for forgiveness for past sins, or give thanks for a previously answered prayer. Businesses will typically be closed this day. The day will be celebrated all across the country with parades, music, and fiesta-ing. The parades will typically feature dancers in traditional garb. You can see that in the video.

A few days after the celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe begins Las Posadas. Las Posadas is a procession similar to Christmas caroling. It lasts nine days, each day representing a month of the Virgin Mary's pregnancy with Jesus. The word "posada" means inn, and this tradition is a commemoration of the part of the Christmas story wherein Joseph and Mary were looking for lodging in Bethlehem. Each evening after dark, a group of children will set out from a local church. Among them, one boy has been chosen to play the role of Joseph, with a girl playing Mary. Occasionally they will be accompanied by a real donkey. Because everything's better with a real donkey. 

A real donkey would never make that face. I demand my money back!

The rest of the procession will carry candles and lanterns, and occasionally an empty manger. The group will go to various homes, singing a song asking for a place to stay the night. The resident of the home will refuse, as the event would be pretty boring and anti-climactic if they agreed. It is only at the very end that a homeowner agrees to take the couple in. At the end of each posada night, piñatas will typically be played with. They'll be in the shape of a seven-pointed star. The seven points represent each of the seven deadly sins. The stick the children wield represents the Christian faith. And the candy that spills forth represents all that is good in the world. Because that's what candy always represents. 

Following the final posada, there will be a late night mass known as the "Mass of the Rooster". The name comes from a tradition that states the birth of Christ was announced by the crowing of a rooster. The natives took to the celebration, as it incorporated elements from old traditions. Following the mass is a traditional midnight feast. Some of the foods will include bacalao, a dried cod, and revoltijo de romerita, which is not as revolting as it sounds. Turkey and ham may make an appearance as well. Children will play with sparklers, called luces de Belen, though hopefully not at the dinner table. In stark contrast the to festivities of the evening before, however, Christmas Day is usually a pretty quiet affair. Families spend the day recuperating from the night before, and eating leftovers. 

Whereas by December 26th we're usually ready to put the Christmas season to rest, in Mexico there are a few more important days left in the season. First is Dia de Los Santos InocentesDia de los Santos Inocentes is considered the Mexican April Fools Day, which is awful foolish on account of it's December 28th. The day is grew from a day of special religious significance, as it originally commemorated the newborn boys killed by King Herod as he tried to avoid the coming of Jesus. Later, it became a day wherein if anyone borrows an item, they do not have to return it. Ever. That's why it's not a good idea to lend anything to anyone on that day. Actually, it's not a good day to leave the house at all, as like our April Fool's Day, pranks abound. And even in the house, you'll be bombarded with fake news stories on the internet. Happy holidays! 

Next we come to the New Year's celebration. It's much the same as in the United States, with a few minor exceptions. One is that there is a tradition of eating twelve grapes, one grape on each chime at midnight. This is supposed to bring luck for each month of the new year. Other than that, there's partying and fireworks, with guns being fired into the air in some rural areas. Exciting! 

The last day of the holiday season proper is the Epiphany, also known as Three Kings' Day. In Spanish, it is Dia de los Tres Reyes Magos. It celebrates the arrival of the Three Wise Men, bearing gifts for Jesus. This is the day when children receive their presents. In the morning after the kids open presents, a round, sweet bread called rosca is served to the group.The rosca may contain a tiny image of the baby Jesus inside. If that happens, the recipient of the bread will play the role of host during the Candlemas celebration on February 2nd. I wont' get into that holiday, because this is a discussion of the December holidays, and February 2nd is way later. But I will say that after February 2nd, Christmas decorations are finally put away for the year. 

So, that was a lot of holidays! St. Nicholas Day, Dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe, Las Posadas, Christmas, Dia de Los Santos Inocentes, New Year's, and Dia de los Tres Reyes Magos. They truly do get the most out of the holiday season south of the border! Join us next time for [insert whatever the next blog is here]. 

1 comment:

  1. I love the all capital and slightly ominous TO BE CONTINUED. Also, nice job setting up the "story" :] Yeah sound shows!