The meaning Candlemas Day and dressing up the children as gods

23/02/2021

Candlemas Day culminates the cycle of Christmas festivities within the Catholic Church, but a look at its celebration in Mexico reveals very particular aspects that include syncretism with pre-Hispanic rites, making it a complex festivity, since its essence also merges the Hebrew and Christian faiths, and even pagan cults coming from the Island of Tenerife, in the Canary Islands.

Behind the meal of tamales to be given on February 2 by those who had the good or bad luck -depending on how you look at it- to find the "child" in their donut, there is a "thanksgiving" that goes back to biblical times, when the first born of the Hebrews saved their lives from the Exterminating Angel, contrary to the eldest sons descended from the Egyptians.

In memory of this fact, according to the Law of Moses, which is written in Leviticus, the Jews had to present their first born in the temple, and sacrifice according to their possibilities a lamb or a pair of white doves, which should have no defects. 

This was done 40 days after the birth of the child, when it was considered that the mother had eliminated any trace of blood product of childbirth, before this, she was considered impure. Jesus Christ, being a Jew, was also presented by his parents, thus fulfilling the lapse for the ritual if it is counted from December 25 to February 2.

In the temple, they meet the old man Simeon, who, still blind, recognizes that the child Mary was carrying in her arms was the Messiah. And he says to God: Now you can take me because my eyes have seen the savior of Israel, who will be glory for Israel and contradiction for many; and addressing the virgin: And you a sword of pain will pierce your heart.

That is what happens in the temple presentation and that is what is commemorated on Candlemas Day, for one thing. In Mexico, the Child Jesus is blessed on that day; in other countries, it is not done that way, not even in Spain, and in general in Europe.

In New Spain during the evangelization process, the Franciscans introduced among other things the nativity scene; in this way, the representation of the Baby Jesus is placed in the manger on December 25 and after 40 days it is necessary to take it to the church to be blessed by those who lulled it on the night of December 24.

Within this celebration, the part of the Baby Jesus could very well have been somehow staged by the Catholic Church, taking advantage of the ceremonies that took place in this same period (at the beginning of February) in pre-Hispanic times, which for the Mesoamerican peoples represented the last part of the 20 days of their calendar.

Fray Bernardino de Sahagún relates in his chronicles that sacrifices were made to the tlaloques, that is, the helpers (the clouds) of the god Tláloc, to ask for rain for the next harvests. For this purpose, children were offered to them, they dressed them in gala clothes, and during their ascent, especially to the well-known Mount Tlaloc, they made them cry as an omen that there would be abundant water.

The evangelizers most probably took advantage of this and, on a base that was related to children, they spliced the Christian cult. The priests took the image of the Child Jesus to the temples, and in the mass, they made known its meaning, with the passage of time, with the change of generations, the memory of those pre-Hispanic ceremonies was diluted.

Regarding the custom of preparing and inviting tamales, before the Conquest, in Mesoamerica different types of tamales were eaten in relation to the festivities of the agricultural cycle; for the rain petition, they were made with semi-bitter herbs -as penance or fasting-, which still remains in some rural areas of the center and south of the country so that the crop planting would work.

The Candlemas Festival

In Europe, the well-known Candle Festival also merged with the previous rites. This one had its origin in the Island of Tenerife, in the Canary Islands; it is said that by the XIV century some shepherds saw a wooden image in the shape of a woman, who was carrying a child on her right arm, and in her left hand a candle or candle.

As was the custom then, a woman alone could not be spoken to, so they threw small stones at her, and as a result one of them had his hand paralyzed, and another one's fingers were also broken. They told this to their ruler, and he asked them to go for her, and when they touched her, both were cured. From that moment on, she began to be venerated in the cave where she was appreciated, but under the title of 'The Foreigner'.

A few years later, when Spain began its conquest of the Canary Islands, a local boy named Antón was taken prisoner, baptized, and instructed in Christianity. Sometime later upon returning to Tenerife and seeing 'The Foreigner' again, he commented to the natives that this image they worshipped was neither more nor less than the mother of God. She was called the Virgen de la Candelaria because of the candle. Even in the Christian tradition, the sense of purification also has to do with fire, that is, with light.

So her devotion in Spain was born in the Canary Islands and became popular especially among sailors who took her as an advocate and hoisted her next to the rudders, in the voyages to America. Therefore, in Mexico, it is not strange that it is in Tlacotalpan, Veracruz, where she has special roots.

There is an infinite variety of tamales

This very Mexican food accompanies the festivities of the mayordomias like the garlic tamale, from Texcoco, Edo. of Mexico, the tamales of huanzontle seed, special for Holy Week and the white aniseed tamale prepared to be put in the Day of the Dead offerings. The tamale in Mexico has left somewhat its ritual use to become one of the most popular foods for daily consumption.

Salt tamales: with green chile, red chile, mole, beans, ayocote, cheese, peanuts, huitlacoche, brains, iguana meat, deer meat, chicken, pork, fish, seafood, beans, seed cream, chaya, dogfish, nopales, frog, biznaga, verdolagas, hoja santa, epazote, poblano chile strips, in which chile will always be present as the main ingredient. And there are sweets with: walnuts, raisins, pineapple, coconut, prunes, pine nuts, or capulin.

The way of wrapping them is also very varied: with corn leaves like the corundas of Michoacán, with dried corn leaves which are the most popular form, with banana leaves mainly in the coastal or tropical zone or with leaves of holy grass those of beans. Of course, atole also has a wide variety of ingredients. Atole is usually made from corn flour, the grain that appears after sifting the flour from the ground corn.

It can be white, without milk, or with milk, sweetened with piloncillo, with sugar, with honey, chocolate, cinnamon, or vanilla; it can have the natural flavor of fruits such as strawberry, guava, tamarind, prune, nut.

The classic atole is the white one, which is made with a mass of nixtamal and water, which is recommended for those who are sick, to take it first bite a piece of piloncillo, and then sip a drink of atole.

We cannot forget the champurrado made with water or milk, cinnamon, and chocolate, if you have cocoa available, better. But it will always be richer if it is served hot and to cool it down we must not forget the "jiggle" of the mug or cup so that it does not burn when we drink it.