The Two Roots of the Fiesta of Candelaria
Candelaria, (in English, Candlemass) is celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church on February 2, forty days after the birth of Jesus the Christ, celebrated on December 25. It was Jewish custom that a first-born son be presented at the Temple in Jerusalem the fortieth day after his birth. According to the Gospels, Mary and Joseph followed this tradition. Candelaria is the feast day celebrating this early event in the life of el Niño Jesús, the Child, or Infant, Jesus.
|Presentation of Christ at the Temple |
by Hans Holbein the Elder, 1500–01 (Kunsthalle, Hamburg)
MCA Note: In the early fourth century, church leaders fixed the date of Jesus's birth as December 25. This was the date of the winter solstice on the Roman (Julian) calendar. When our current Gregorian calendar was introduced by Pope Gregory in 1582, all dates were moved ten days ahead to align with the sun's positions during the solar year. The misalignment had developed over time because the Julian calendar did not include a leap year every four years needed to keep the calendar aligned with the sun's cycle of positions in relation to the earth. However, Christmas was kept on December 25. The decision to place Jesus' birth on the winter solstice also implied that he was conceived on the spring equinox, nine months earlier. Wikipedia.February 2 also happens to mark the mid-point of the season of winter in the northern hemisphere (summer in the southern). It is one of the so-called "cross-quarter days" of the solar calendar, falling halfway between the "quarter days" of the winter solstice and the subsequent spring equinox, therefore marking one-eighth of a solar year (6.5 weeks or 45.5 days).
Andrés Medina Hernández, a researcher at the IIAM (Institute of Anthropological Research) of the UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico), has noted that Candelaria is celebrated with particular fervor in Mexico City, especially in the southern, more traditionally indigenous delegaciones (now alcaldías) of Iztapalapa, Tláhuac, Xochimilco and Milpa Alta, where there is a special veneration for El Niño Jesús, the child or infant Jesus, centered on Candelaria.
Most notable of these is el Niño Pa (the Child of This Place) in Xochimilco. He is a small wooden statue of the infant Jesus created in the 16th century, in the early years of the so-called Spiritual Conquest, the lengthy process of conversion of the indigenous by Spanish and other European monks to Christianity. (See our post: Xochimilco | Candelaria and el Niño Pa: Caring for the Infant God.)
|El Niño pa,|
carried by his majordomo,
finishing his charge on Feb. 2, 2017
In addition to el Niño Pa, Xochimilco has four other special Niños Jesús, each of whom is kept by householders of a particular pueblo or barrio, not in a church. The householder is the mayordomo (caretaker) who changes annually. These Niños, like el Niño Pa, spend the year visiting homes in the delegación and even travel to other delegaciones. We first encountered el Niño Pa in Pueblo Xoco (HO-ko) in Delegación Benito Juárez, some nine miles north of Xochimilco.MCA Note: With this post, we are adding Delegación Coyoacán to this list. It has both a Pueblo Candelaria, featured in this post, and a Barrio El Niño Jesús.
It is on February 2, Candelaria, that the new mayordomos take charge of the image of each of these Niño Dios for one year. This marks the end of the Christmas season. Dr. Medina believes this veneration of el Niño Jesús has a close link with the ancient Mesoamerican agricultural calendar and religion. The celebration of Candelaria coincides with a Mesoamerican tradition of venerating the annual rebirth of the god of corn.
The Mexica god of maize (corn), Centeotl, was born on February 2, which was also the beginning of the Mexica solar year. His birth initiated the annual agricultural cycle of soil preparation, planting, cultivation and harvesting of corn. At harvest time, five ripened maize cobs were picked by elder Aztec women. Each was carefully wrapped, like a mother would wrap up a newborn child and then carried, like a child, in a shawl on the women's backs to their homes. There, they were placed in a special basket and kept until the following year and the beginning of the next agricultural cycle.
Medina also points out that there is a link between the birth of the god of corn and the eating of tamales and atole (a drink made of corn masa [dough], thinned with water and with various flavors added) on February 2. The masa (dough) of cornmeal is the symbolic flesh of the corn god and the atole is his blood. The word tamal or tamalli is Nahuatl and means "carefully wrapped" (as a newborn is wrapped).
Eating tamales and drinking atole on Candelaria is a traditional symbolic act very similar to Communion in Christianity. By consuming these foods, Mexicans eat the body and drink the blood of the newborn god of corn. In the Maya sacred book, the Popol Vuh, human beings were created from corn masa. Human existence in Mesoamerica depended on corn. This has a parallel in Judaism and Christianity, where, in the Book of Genesis, God molds man from soil in his image and likeness.
Furthermore, in the same way that a tamal is carefully wrapped, on Candelaria many families dress a figure of the Child God, which is kept in their home all year, with special garments, most often baptismal gowns. He is then taken to the church to be blessed and to pray for his protection of the family for the coming year.
MCA Note: This analysis of Candelaria by Dr. Medina was provided by Abraham Garcia, a student in anthropology in the National Autonomous University of Mexico and administrator of the Facebook page Fiestas Mágicas de los Pueblos y Barrios Originarios del Valle de Mexico, our indispensible guide.
|Niño Jesús on Candelaria,|
with ears of corn in a basket.
All of these primal, archetypal parallels between indigenous and Christian beliefs in the symbolism of Candelaria are among the many that helped make possible the syncretism of indigenous and Roman Catholic Christian religions that resulted in Mexican popular Catholicism. (For more on the elements and dynamics of this syncretism see our page, Mexico Traditional Popular Religious Culture.)
Candelaria in Pueblo Candelaria, Coyoacán
We have written about Pueblo Candelaria twice before, when, as part of the visits paid by el Señor de la Misericordia, the Lord of Compassion, each summer from his home in Pueblo Tres Santos Reyes (Three Holy Kings) to other pueblos in Coyoacán. We were present when he arrived for the first of two visits to Candelaria, which is Tres Reyes' neighbor, and again, at the end of his summer tour, when he returns to Tres Reyes from his second visit in Candelaria. Candelaria is the only pueblo he visits twice each summer. The two pueblos are closely bonded. Both entregas (handovers, deliveries) are grand events.
But we had never gone to Candelaria for the fiesta of its patron saint. It is not el Niño Jesús. (The nearby Barrio el Niño Jesus has its fiesta on January 1, the eighth day of Jesus' life and, according to Jewish custom, the day of his circumcision. We attended it last year.) The patron saint of Pueblo Candelaria is the Virgin of Candelaria, that is, the Virgin Mary in her advocación (representation) at the moment of her purification at the Temple forty days after Jesus' birth and, also, as the Queen of Heaven, which she became upon her assumption into heaven at the moment of her earthly death.
So early on the morning of February 2, a Saturday this year, not able to find any schedule of fiesta events on the internet, we go to Candelaria, hoping to witness a procession we have heard happens around 9 AM. However, when we arrive at the atrio (atrium) of the modern church (the original 16th-century one was replaced in the mid-20th century), not much seems to be happening.
A large floral portada of fresh flowers—always amazing in their complex design, vibrant colors and workmanship—covers the arches of the church entrance.
|Portada made with fresh mums.|
"The Lord stands firm for his pueblo´s (village and its people)
defense and salvation,
for its faithful ones he saves us.
But even more spectacular, taking up most of the large atrio is a huge tapete de aserrín, sawdust carpet, a fiesta tradition. The pueblo is well-known for its tapetes, created for each fiesta by a group of mostly young people, the Alfombristas Pueblo de la Candelaria Coyoacán (link is to its Facebook page; alfombra is another word for carpet, likely from Arabic).
|Tapete or alfombra de aserrín|
This one is unusual, not only for its size,
but also for its lack of any specific religious symbolism.
A large wind band is playing on a stage to one side.
We ask various parishioners when the procession is to occur. None seem sure of the time. Finally, one woman tells us that a schedule of all the fiesta events is posted outside. Such posters are standard for fiestas, and they are essential for us to know when the main events are going to happen. We did not see any on our way into the pueblo or in the atrio, but go in search, hoping to find one. There are none in the atrio and we begin to despair, when, walking back out into the main street, we suddenly spot one on the garage door of a home.
Standing in front of her, on both sides of the southbound lanes of Pacifíco, a large number of saints are lined up on their andas. Having been, by now, to many fiestas in Coyoacán, including two others at this same spot, we recognize quite a few and know which pueblos they represent.
The Procession Gets Underway
Other saints that we weren't able to photograph while they were waiting, now pass by:
It tells us that the procession isn't today, but tomorrow at noon. At that time, the Virgin will meet saints arriving from other pueblos. The encounter will take place at the intersection of two main avenues that form the northeast boundary of the pueblo, Avenida Candelaria and Avenida Pacífico. We know the intersection well. It is exactly where el Señor de la Misericordia and the Virgin come together and where, the first Sunday in September, they part ways. Many saints from other pueblos had been present both times we were there, so we anticipate that this encounter will be on a similarly grand scale. Clearly, the Virgin of Candelaria is highly venerated beyond her own parish.
The Virgin of Candelaria Welcomes the Saints of Other Pueblos to Her Fiesta
So, shortly before noon on Sunday, we arrive by taxi at the corner of Candelaria and Pacífico Avenues. Pacífico, south of Candelaria, is blocked to traffic by a cadre of city police. A crowd is gathered in the closed street. Having seen this scenario before, we know what is happening and hurry to wend our way through the crowd.
A Gathering of the Saints of Coyoacán
A short distance down the block we see the Virgin (in her pink version) standing on a flower-covered anda (platform) for being carried in the procession to the church.
|The Virgin of Candelaria,|
Hostess of Her Day
|El Señor de la Misericordia, the Lord of Compassion|
and los Tres Santos Reyes, Three Holy Kings
from Pueblo Tres Santos Reyes.
Niño Jesús, Child or Infant Jesus,
from Barrio Niño Jesús.
|San Pablo, St. Paul, |
from Pueblo San Pablo Tepetlapa;
from Pueblo San Sebastián Xoco
|Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles|
from Barrio San Diego Churubusco;
San Domingo and San Francisco
from Colonia de Santo Domingo
|San Luis Rey, Saint Louis, King of France|
from the church dedicated to him
in Colonia Ajusco;
San Isidro, saint of farmer,
from Pueblo San Isidro, Michocán
Both saints were brought from the municipality of Nahuatzen, Michoacán
when large numbers of its Purépecha residents moved to Colonia Ajusco in the 1960s and 70s.
There are several more saints waiting to join the procession, but we´ll have to wait to take their photos, as parishioners from Candelaria are picking up her anda and starting the procession into the pueblo. We have to hurry to get ahead of them before they enter the narrow barrio street, as we have learned that being at the front of a procession is the best position for finding good angles for shots.
|The procession begins.|
|Three Virgins of Candelaria|
Warriors for St. James who battle the "pagan" Moors.
We have seen them at several fiestas.
|Chinelos, also frequent participants in processions of saints|
Procession of the Saints of Coyoacán
|The Virgin of Candelaria|
then leads the procession of saints
Other saints that we weren't able to photograph while they were waiting, now pass by:
|Virgin of Guadalupe|
of Barrio Santa Úrsula Coapa
|El Señor de los Milagros|
The Lord of Miracles,
from the church dedicated to Him
in Colonia Ajusco
|San Lucas, St. Luke|
of Barrio San Lucas
|San Domingo and San Francisco,|
followed by San Luis Rey,
proceed through the callejas, narrow streets,
of Pueblo Candelaria.
|The Virgen of Guadalupe,|
Santa Úrsula and
|The Virgin arrives in the atrio of her church.|
Welcoming the Saints to the Church of Our Lady of Candelaria
|The church bells, in the belfry,|
which is the only remaining part of the original 16th-century church,
begin to be rung by an athletic joven (youth).
is carefully carried around the tapete,
towards the church.
|She is placed to receive all of the visiting saints.|
|One by one, the saints are carried into the sanctuary.|
The Virgin enters last.
|The congregation waits while the visiting saints are placed near the altar.|
|Some carry their Ninos Jesús|
|In the choir loft, a group, mostly young people,|
sing folk-style songs
with much ánimo, spirit.
Three Eminent Saints of Coyoacán
The placement of El Señor de la Misericordia and El Niño Jesús immediately in front of la Virgen de Candelaria is, we think, a symbolic expression of their special importance for all the original pueblos of Coyoacán. El Señor de la Misericordia, the Lord of Compassion, holds a special status in all the pueblos, demonstrated by his elaborately enacted series of visits to them each summer. The feast day of Candelaria is a celebration both of the Virgin Mother and her holy child, el Niño Jesus. Here, today, in the Church of Our Lady of Candelaria, they are brought together.
The importance of the Virgin of Candelaria among the original pueblos of Coyoacán is also demonstrated by the participation of virtually all those pueblos' saints in the procession and the culminating Mass. This extensive participation does not occur at the patron saint fiestas of the other pueblos. Here, in Coyoacán, as throughout all of Mexico, the Virgin holds a place of unique eminence. She is the Mother of the Son of God incarnate, as manifested in the feast of Candelaria. She is the mother of the Son who is crucified to save from their sins and death all who accept him as Savior, as embodied here by the Lord of Compassion. And in her advocación as the Virgin of Guadalupe, also present today, she is the Mother of Mexico.
|Delegaciones of Mexico City|
Coyoacán is the purple delegación in the center.