CHRISTMAS HOLIDAYS IN MEXICO:

LA VIRGEN DE GUADALUPE

The celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the Patrona of Mexico, the Queen of the Americas also begins on December 3 and culminates on her special day, December 12, when all Mexico pauses to celebrate the mother of God as she appeared on Tepeyac, the prehispanic site of the temple to Tontanslin , one of the most influential Aztec goddesses, asking that a temple be built to her on that site, as the Mother of Mexico.

An aura of sun rays surrounded the Virgin, when her image appeared on the tilma (cloak) of Juan Diego on December 12, 1531, marking her as an ambassador from the sun, the highest of all the Aztec gods. Her power, her light and her love are remembered for the nine days o processions and pilgrimages — another fiesta of light.

The image of the Virgin of Guadalupe remains one of the great mysteries of the world. The image was first seen when Juan Diego dropped from his cloak the Castillian roses the Virgin produced as a sign to prove her existence showered from the tilma to the Bishop’s feet.

That this rough handmade garment has lasted over 460 years is a mystery. The normal lifespan for the fabric which had been made from agave, the succulent from which Tequila is also made, would be from 10-20 years. This incredible image has survived unscathed by 166 years of unprotected display and reverent touching, the explosion of a bomb left in a nearby vase, and, in the 1800’s, silversmiths repairing the frame, spilled nitric acid which covered nearly two thirds of the cloth.

Over the centuries scientists and experts from around the world have inspected and tested the fabric, but have never detected a trace of ink or paint.

The Indians who saw the image read it much like you read these words. They saw that this woman was greater than the moon she stood on, but that she was lesser than and coming from the Sun god. Her blue green outer cloak told them that she was an ambassador, coming with messages from the most powerful of gods, the sun. The stars on her cloak formed the constellations as they appeared in the sky on December 12, 1531. At her waist was a black sash, as was worn by all pregnant women at that time.

Most important of all, unlike the paintings and the statues in the churches, this messenger from God had skin the color of their own, a coppery brown.

The devotion to Guadalupe transcends any form of religious scope to become a symbol of Mexican nationalism and patriotism. Guadalupe creates a bond, a sense of being Mexican, of profound pride in being Mexican. Her influence crosses all borders and boundaries. She transcends the normal division of social strata found yet today in Mexico, and her devotees are the rich and humble, the industrialized and the farmer, the educated and the illiterate, the religious and the cynical. Her altar is a glitter of lights, roses and hope, the Mexican love for her is an endless hymn, the Mexican’s contact with her is hourly, she is the Mother of Mexico, the Queen of the Americas, She IS Mexico.

 

NACIMIENTOS

Nacimientos have traditionally been the main decorations in local homes, businesses and churches, and what tributes they are. Using moss, sawdust, sand, and painted paper, multi-tiered bases are created to resemble hills, deserts, rivers and lakes. Whole villages appear on tabletops, and more characters and scenes are added each year Dozens of figures are lovingly arranged around December 14th, and kept on display until February 2.

Look for purely Mexican traditions and twists in the nacimientos, like the rooster who crowed to announce the birth of the child, fish in the river (from the lovely Mexican carol of the same name—Los Peces en el Rio), Lucifer lurking in his cave to tempt the shepherds from their journey, the Egyptians camping with their tents and pyramids. These are representations of complete villages, with wells, vendors with carts of fruits and vegetables, playing children, musicians, dancers, mutton and pork roasting on spits, even women making tortillas.

 

LAS POSADAS

Las Posadas are a series of nine charming children’s processions which are uniquely, genuinely and exclusively Mexican, seemingly invented by the early Spanish missionaries solely to comfort and convert the former Aztecs.

The tradition of the nine days of processions (Posadas) began soon after the arrival of the Spaniards in Mexico.

Clever San Ignacio de Loyola created the custom to teach the story of the birth of Jesus and more importantly to coincide with the nine day Fiestas of the Sun, which celebrated the virgin birth of the Aztec Sun god, Huitzilopchtli, from the 16th through the 24th of December. Special permission was received from Rome to celebrate nine “Christmas Masses” to represent the nine months of Mary’s pregnancy.

This December, children in the villages here at Lake Chapala, will set out each evening from the church for a pilgrimage to a different neighborhood. This procession symbolizes the journey made by Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem and Joseph’s search for shelter (Posada) at an Inn (also Posada). The peregrinos (pilgrims) include Joseph leading Mary on a burro, an Angel, shepherds, kings, and a large flock of excited, giggling, jostling, bumping, wiggling, shiny-eyed others, most with bright ribbon and flower decked shepherds’ staffs which they tap in time to the music.

The lovely verses of the traditional Posada song are exchanged back and forth between Joseph and the group outside each house and the Innkeeper and the group inside. At each location, Joseph asks for entry, until finally at a prearranged location, the Innkeeper and friends sing from inside the shelter (house):

“Enter holy pilgrims, receive this humble corner, that while we know it is a poor lodging, it is given as the gift of heart.”

And the party begins, with joyous music, piñatas, with candy, fruit, and treats for everyone. Like the fiestas held by the ancients to honor Huitzilopochtli, the Mexican feeling—laughter mixed with deep spirituality, combined with the Mexican’s thirst for diversion from the daily sameness of survival. This is truly a merrily religious celebration, and for most of the children, far more anticipated than Christmas itself.

 

PIÑATAS

Although the Piñata originated in China, the traditional party favorite of Mexican children travelled along the trade routes to Italy where it was named pigata or pineapple in Italian, then to Spain in time to be taken to the new world by the missionaries. In every Mexican village, every few blocks there is a housewife making all sizes and designs of piñatas from fringed crepe paper and cardboard glued to a clay jar (cantero).

The serious symbolism of this simple party toy is very typical of Mexico as there is always more to understand than appears on the surface.

The decorated clay cantero represents Satan who often wears an attractive mask to attract humanity. The most traditional style of Piñata looks a bit like Sputnik, with seven points, each with streamers. These cones represent the seven deadly sins, and the breaking of the Piñata with the ensuing shower of sweets and fruits and nuts vividly shows the triumph of good over evil and the unknown joys and rewards which will be given in heaven to the good and faithful. The blindfolded participant represents the leading force in defying evil, faith, which must be blind, and is guided only by the voices of others crying “arriba, abajo, atras” (up, down, back).