In two days, on February 2, Mexico celebrates the religious holiday of CANDLEMAS (El dia de la Candelaria) or the Feast of Presentation of the Lord. This holiday occurs forty days after the birth of Christ on December 25th and symbolizes when Jesus was presented, as the Light of the World, to the church. Candles are brought to the church to be blessed for each household and in some parts of Mexico, replicas of the baby Jesus are brought to the church in elaborate, festive clothing for a blessing. This gathering of candles at one time and place is said to be the reason for the name CANDLEMAS. Christmas decorations are traditionally removed (if they were not taken down on THREE KING’S DAY or Epiphany) and stored away, along with the Mexican nativity scenes known as NACIMIENTOS.
However, El dia de la Candelaria is also an elaborate day of celebration in Mexico, not just for its religious connotations, but as an all out fiesta! Tamales (tamal singular) are supplied by the person that received the tiny trinket of baby Jesus in their slice of Rosca de Reyes (the cake-like pastry eaten on Three King’s Day or Epiphany) on January 6th. The “winner” either brings all the ready-made tamales to a party or they host a traditional TAMALADA (tamal making party) in their casa and the guests make and enjoy their freshly made treats. On the Yucatan Peninsula, where Isla is located, the traditional filling is a spicy pork or chicken surrounded by masa, then wrapped in a local banana leaf. A traditional chocolate drink, or CHAMPURRADO or chocolate atole [the latter denotes the addition of masa or corn elote to the chocolate] is enjoyed. Homes and restaurants are often draped with the traditional banners of Mexican folk art known as PAPEL PICADO (intricately-cut, colorful tissue paper or plastic). PAPEL PICADO translates to “pecked paper”, which is an interesting side note to the translation of PICO de GALLO “rooster’s beak,” get it-pecked with a beak paper!!!
CANDLEMAS, February 2nd, is also the halfway point of the winter solstice and the spring equinox, which began for this cycle in Mexico on December 21st. This halfway point is recognized as the beginning of spring. Coincidentally, in the United States and Canada, GROUNDHOG DAY is also celebrated on February 2nd. Legend has it that if the groundhog (woodchuck or badger) sees his shadow, then there will be six more weeks of winter; if not, spring is on its way! It is fascinating to note how over centuries, cultures and groups of people have embraced what seems to be different beliefs, but all can be traced back to ancient rituals or events. As a group, we are not really far apart in many ways. So Feliz CANDLEMAS or have a great GROUNDHOG DAY! Just find a reason to celebrate this and EVERY DAY.