The Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe

As always, when it's a special day in Mexico, it's a special day on my blog! Today we are going to learn about the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, one of the most significant historical/religious events in Mexico.

The first time I witnessed this feast day was when I first arrived in Mexico and was living in Cozumel. I had decided to head out to the beach one day but could not get down the streets, everything was closed off and there were floods of people everywhere. The beach plan was abandoned and I decided to go with the flow and see what was happening. I discovered lines of cars decorated with altars to the Virgin of Guadalupe and a huge procession traveling slowly through the streets. Brightly coloured flowers bedecked every surface and people carried candles, statues of the virgin, rosaries, crosses and signs honouring Guadalupe. It was quite a serious affair and I wish I had known at the time exactly what was going on, perhaps I would have looked less like the gawking tourist I was.

Now that I have some years in Mexico under my belt, I have discovered just how very important this day is. For many, the Virgin of Guadalupe is the "mother of Mexico", the brown skinned version of the Virgin Mary. In the early 1500's, the Spanish conquered Mexico and brought with them their Catholic religion to start converting the indigenous people to Christianity. One of the first converts, Juan Diego was on his way to mass one morning when he was reportedly visited by an apparition on Tepeyac Hill in Mexico City. He saw a blinding light and heard music and saw a vision of a woman. The woman spoke to him in Nahuatl (the Aztec language) and told him she was the mother of Jesus. She told him of her desire to have a church built on the hill and instructed him to notify the Bishop. Convincing the Bishop was no easy task, he demanded proof of this visitation. On December 12, 1531 Juan Diego was crossing Tepeyac Hill and was once again visited by the apparition. She told him that he needed to gather flowers from the hill and deliver them to the Bishop as his proof. He gathered the roses into his cloak and returned to the Bishop. As he presented the flowers, a miraculous image of the Virgin appeared on his cloak. The Bishop was convinced and the church was built.

There is considerable controversy about the whole event and scientists are still trying to determine if indeed the cloak is legitimate (it still exists and has been dated to the 16th century, but they cannot determine if the image was created at that time or if it is a fake). There is a lot of discussion about whether this was a ploy by the Spanish to convert more indigenous people to Christianity. The hill where she was seen was the location of an Aztec temple that the church had destroyed, and it is often said that the vision called herself by the name of an Aztec goddess in addition to claiming to be the mother of Jesus. It has been surmised that it may also have been a response from the indigenous people to the Catholic church, a way for them to continue honouring their own gods in the guise of a Christian saint.

Regardless of the controversy, Guadelupe is still the adored saint of Mexico and is a symbol of Mexico's identity. She is considered by some to be the first "mestizo" (person born of Spanish and indigenous blood) and therefore representative of the first "real" Mexican. Today millions of people will be walking or crawling to the altars and churches to offer thanks to the Virgin for their blessings or to ask for blessings for the future.

Not surprisingly, Cancun will not see a huge celebration of the event as they will in Mexico City. I walked around this morning looking for something, anything dedicated to the Virgin and saw nothing, even the church I went by was almost empty. This city is sadly a place of lost traditions and faith. People come to Cancun from their small pueblos, leaving their families and often their rituals get left behind as well. This is a city of McDonald's and Walmart and the American way. While I am not religious in the least, I find it very sad to hear my students speak about losing their heritage, they realize it's happening but they just don't care. MTV has replaced the pope. My students know more about Britney Spears than they do about the Virgin.


Mexico Way said…
I've actually seen several celebrations taking place.

On Friday evening bonampak was shut down and there was a procession. On Sunday I saw people running down the highway with an olympic type flame. And last night there was another procession on Bonampak going up Chichen Itza.
CancunCanuck said…
Well that's good! Here I am looking for it and you just got lucky. Glad to hear it's not dead in Cancun.
Manolo said…
Check this post on a friend's blog about the celebrations of La Virgen de Guadalupe in Guatemala with wonderful beautiful pictures.
sowbug said…
Greetings! I was just at the festival in downtown Cancun - off Tulum, near the restaurant Labna. Mariachi music, traditional dancing, there was quite a gathering.

Wondering if you might know... we happened upon a 10-piece mariachi band at La Parilla and luckily enough they were also playing at the festival tonight. I think their name was Los Galleros. Any idea if one could find cd's of such music?

sowbug said…
I should clarify - I want CD's of Los Galleros'... please say such a thing exists and I can get find them near my hotel off Nader and Uxmal! :)
CancunCanuck said…
Manolo, thanks for the link, great pics!

sowbug, oh man, I have no idea if you could find a CD for them! Most local bands will sell them when they perform if they have them. There is a music store at Plaza las Americas (a quick cab ride from where you are) called "Mixup", located near Sears, they will definitely have a mariachi section. Glad you had a lovely night, enjoy the rest of your trip!
GabachaYucateca said…
I've had La Guadalupana in my head since yesterday. My first Xmas in the village, I was madrina for one of the antorchistas! Very weird, considering I am not Catholic, and my aijado was a baptized Mormon.

Hubby talked to his mom yesterday, and couldn't talk to dad since he was too busy preparing relleno for the evening's festivities.

The best part is the antorchistas arriving in their pueblo or city, greeted by tons of people. Depending on how far they travel, you can see them for weeks or days with one running down the street with the torch, a decorated van following them with all the others.
wayne said…
Thank you. This was the best explanation of the Guadelupe day I have ever read. I never did fully understand it but you certainly have helped clarify it for me.
CarmenDeBizet said…
Thanks for this post. I found you via Manolo, via La Antigua Daily Photo. December 12th is a special day and it's great to read about it. Thanks again. :-)
CancunCanuck said…
Gabacha, you are lucky to have experienced such a great family tradition from the small town perspective!

Wayne, glad I could put it in "Gringlish" for you, haha.

Carmen, pleasure to "meet" you, thanks for stopping in! Bienvenida!
zihuamx said…
Here's a bit about how Guadalupe is celebrated in Ixtapa Zihuatanejo (Mexico's Pacific coast)...

In Honor of the Virgin of Guadalupe

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