My first Mexican celebration! February the 2nd: Día de la Candelaría. I had seen shops full of dolls in elaborate clothing and wondered what on earth they were, especially as towards the end of this week I saw people carrying them on the bus and tending to them as if they were real babies. But these were adults, what were they doing with these unusual dolls, stroking their faces and carrying them either in baskets or seated on chairs?! After discovering that Monday is a bank holiday here in Mexico called Día de la Candelaría I researched it on the internet and there popped up a vast array of images: niños Díos! It translates literally as God children but more acurately they are figures of baby Jesus. The dolls are traditionally laid into the Nativity scene in the home on Christmas Eve and then dressed in a new outfit and taken to church on the 2nd of February, the last day of the Christmas season, to be blessed. I didn’t take any photos because I was afraid of being perceived as some little gringa making a mockery of their customs, but it’s definitely worth googling if you’re intrigued.
The 2nd of February falls forty days after Christmas and is celebrated by Catholics as the feast of the purification of the Virgin. It is Jewish belief that a woman is unclean for forty days after giving birth, so it is thought that the baby Jesus would have been taken to a temple to be presented to priests on this day. In Mexico, the religious origins of the festival have also been mixed with indigenous elements, and it is traditional to eat tamales at the celebrations. Tamales are a delicious Mexican food made with corn meal dough (like a dense sponge cake) that can be sweet or savoury, filled with pineapple, chicken, cheese, tomato or chilli. They are wrapped in sweetcorn sheath or banana leaves and steamed. ¡Muy ricos!
My Mexican family won’t be celebrating with their relatives until next weekend because my host mum is away at the minute, but my host dad took me to the Church of San Francisco today to see what was going on. The church was very busy with row upon row of Pueblans holding their niños Díos, waiting for Mass to begin. Most interesting, however, was the mummy of Friar Sebastian de Aparicio, encased in a very ornate silver…box?! Born in 1502 in Galicia, he sailed to Mexico in 1533 and worked as a cattle herder. He soon realised the difficulty of transporting supplies across Mexico and conceived and promoted the idea of building roads from Puebla to Veracruz and an enormous highway from Zapatecas to Mexico. This of course had huge economic benefits for the communities involved. He also taught native people how to use ploughs, how to build wagons, and to domesticate horses and oxen. Consequently he became known as the ‘Angel of Mexico’. He continued to live a pious and modest life: in 1574 was accepted as a friar, and spent the next 26 years of his life travelling through the state of Puebla seeking food and alms for the friars and those they supported. He died from an entangled hernia at the grand old age of 98 and his body was beatified by the Catholic Church. He has since been residing at the San Francisco Church in Puebla. He is also a Patron Saint of Travellers, so I was happy to pay him a little visit!
So that was my first taste of Mexican festivities, and I’m looking forward to experiencing many more in my year here!