February 2 – the candlemas, groundhog day in the United States, a cross quarter celebration world-wide, is known here in Mexico as the candelaria, celebrated the 40th day after Christ’s birth, the day Jesus was presented to the temple. Never mind that the reason it took forty days to get him there was that women were considered ‘unclean’ for forty days after the birth of a child at that time. Or perhaps women just gave themselves 40 days to recuperate, let’s hope. But the point is, for however many thousands of years, this celebration still exists, and like everything else wonderful here, it is celebrated with total belief and passion.
This photo was taken on Christmas day when the Santo Ninos are taken to the church to be blessed and kissed by the priest. Every family has at least one, if not five or six of these Santo Dios’ and there are hundreds of ‘outfits’ if I dare call them that, which you can buy at the Christmas markets for the current year’s nacimiento.
This Christmas, we went to church with our neighbors because the mass was also in honor of Petra’s daugher Maricela who died this year, and for her other daughter Elvia’s husband Jesus who was killed this year. The church nacimiento ran the length of the altar and to the ceiling. Local musicians with guitars were singing the mass. Toward the end, the baby Jesus, which was resting at the top level of the nacimiento, was brought down, carried by a monk to the front of the altar, where several hundred parishioners formed an orderly line to take turns kissing the baby. As with most of the traditional celebrations here, the belief in something bigger than you is omnipresent and something I find a wonderful relief and counterpoint to the lack thereof in the western world.
After the Christmas celebrations and following the dia de Reyes Magos (Three Kings Day) – on the day of the candelaria, the Santo Ninos are taken back to the church once more for a blessing, then put away or in family altars until the following year. During this holiday season, I passed through the Mexico City bus station with John. While waiting for him, I found these two Nino Dios magazines at a news stand.
They not only lay out the story of every Santo Nino, but the customs and traditions, the food, drink and necessary altar adornments, but also full color photographs of each santo’s history and origin plus patterns for all the clothing. I would have died for something like this when I was a young girl and into playing with dolls, making clothes for them and creating fantasy lives.
On the Three King’s Day, we had company for dinner and they bought a Rosca del Reyes, which had several white plastic babies, and John got both of them. The tradition is if you get the baby, you are to give a party on February 2nd. The traditional food is tamales and Atole which Elvia made for us – with chicken and rajas (poblano chili strips) steamed in banana leaves. I brought out the Nino Dios magazines to talk about the tradition and the discussion came around to all the childhood dolls the women in the group still had including Barbies, Shirley Temple dolls and others, which might be put to good use by resurrecting them from their homes in trunks and sanctifying them each Christmas by sewing new clothes for them, placing them in the nacimiento, welcoming them into the world with songs and rocking them at midnight Christmas eve.
For a more detailed story about the history of the candlemas, go here to Mexico Bob’s post from 2008 which gives an informative, historical look at the feast of purification and the ‘churching of women’ presentation ceremonies in the U.S. in the early 50’s.