Today is the day of another big party! Yay I hear you say, we haven’t had a festival in, oh so long… possibly days! So, today is 40 days after the birth of Jesus. Christmas in Mexico isn’t officially over until February 2, el Día de la Candelaria or Candlemas Day, when Niños Dios and candles are bought to the church to be blessed. According to Catholic belief, Mary and Joseph took baby Jesus to the synagogue for the first time 40 days after his birth – so February 2 is also known as the Feast of the Presentation.
As I have mentioned, most Catholic families in Mexico have a doll of Niño Dios (baby Jesus). Sometime in December, he has his current clothes removed, in preparation for his birth on December 25th. Then after the main meal of Christmas which takes place around midnight, Niño Dios is passed around all the adults, who stand in a circle, to be held and rocked as part of the tradition, and also as symbol of good luck for the coming year. (I am super not kidding about this. This activity was part of my Christmas in Oaxaca with my Mexican grandma). He is passed around the circle of family members as he is serenaded with a lullaby (we sang rock a bye baby – all verses), and after everyone has had their turn and has kissed him, he is placed into his crib where he remains until February 2nd.
Each year on February 2nd, the Niño Dios is brought to Mass by each family to be blessed. After the mass, the family returns home to celebrate, typically with tamales, buñuelos, atole and hot chocolate.
Vendors at my local market (the women who sell bread, vegetables, fruit, eggs, tamales, fruit juices etc) work really long hours and so the priest from the nearest church visited the market this week to hold mass so they could get their Niños Dios blessed there.
Remember on Kings Day, January 6th that whoever got the doll in their slice of Rosca de Reyes had to throw a party on Candlemas? Well, after a week of frantic tamale and atole making, that day is now today. Families all over Mexico gather together to eat and drink today, and in some cases also to exchange gifts. Sometimes the person responsible for the fiesta will also be responsible for the new outfit for the Niño Dios.
It is customary that every year, the Niño Dios is taken to church dressed in a new outfit. This clothing will remain on him all year, and of course there are also traditions governing what he should wear. Think Niño Dios is immune to fashion trends? Every year new and different clothing made especially for the Niño Dios comes to market. The clothing choice varies widely from replica vestidos of saints to Aztec Gods to football/soccer players and even the current very popular Pope. Sometimes the dress is chosen for a special purpose to help the family in the coming year. For example, if you have children doing exams, you might dress your Niño Dios as a teacher, or if your family has health concerns, you might choose to dress him as a doctor.
The markets at the moment are full of sparkly and gold-edged clothes for Niño Dios, cellophaned into bags to protect them. You can buy replica sandals – made from leather or some type of shiny gold cardboard. You can also upgrade your manger, crib and Niño Dios sized throne if required.
Of course, being Oaxaca, Día de la Candelaria celebrations started this morning with – what else but – cohetes! All day families have come to the local churches with their Niño Dios – cradled like a real baby in arms, or placed on his throne and carried high. People also bring beeswax candles to the church today to get them blessed as well for use at home throughout the year.
As I write this at 9pm I can hear through my apartment window the concert at Santo Domingo, put on for Candelaria and punctuated by fireworks, and strangley enough, fire sirens. The main pedestrian thoroughfare has been crowded with families in their Sunday best, possibly walking off the atole and tamale feasts that have been served and eaten today by family and friends. Later on tamales will also be handed out at the church so people who are far from their families and homes can also enjoy Candelaria.
I am not too sure what the next scheduled festival will be, but knowing Oaxaca, I am sure it won’t be too far away.