Hello, amigos! I’m writing this on December 12th,which it is the official start of the holiday season in Mexico. From this day on, it’s a marathon of parties, get-togethers, and reunions that don´t stop until January 6th. But more importantly, this day holds a special meaning for the entire nation. It’s the most Mexican of all holidays!
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In Mexico, December 12th is the official start of the Mexican holiday season, and it’s also one of our biggest and most important holidays. It’s the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patron saint of Mexico and protector of our nation.
The Legend of Guadalupe
Legend tells us that on this day in 1531, the Virgin appeared on Tepeyac hill to a humble, indigenous man named Juan Diego. She expressed her wish to have a church built for her on that hill and sent Juan Diego to speak with the Archbishop with his cloak full of roses. When Juan Diego opened his cloak in front of the Archbishop, instead of the roses there was an image of the Virgin. This was considered a miracle and the Virgin’s wish was fulfilled.
The Meaning Behind The Image
Today, the basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe is the most visited Catholic pilgrimage site in the world and the world’s third most-visited sacred site. More than 20 million pilgrims make the trek each year to see Juan Diego’s cloak with the image of the Virgin. This cloak, known as the ayate, is considered holy, and it is believed to be of supernatural origin. It is said that the eyes of the Virgin reflect the people who witnessed this miracle, that the stars on her cloak correspond to the constellations visible at the time, and that her image is full of sacred Aztec and Catholic symbolism.
Our Lady of Guadalupe holds a special meaning for Mexicans because of certain details about her. First, her face on the painting is dark-skinned, so that she looks like many of the native people of this land. Also, according to legend, she spoke nahuatl, the ancient Aztec language, when she appeared to Juan Diego. Finally, the apparitions took place during the time when Christian missionaries were struggling to convert the native population. It is not surprising that a dark-skinned, nahuatl-speaking Virgin would appeal to the indigenous people of Mexico, so that most of them were converted within a few decades.
With time, devotion to our Lady of Guadalupe grew in Spanish-ruled Mexico. She became a symbol of the native-born population, contrasting with the Spanish settlers, who had an affinity for other saints. In fact, she became a symbol of the entire Mexican nation. When the fight for Independence began in 1810, the rebel army carried a banner of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The Mother of Mexico
In modern-day Mexico, devotion to our Lady hasn’t diminished but grown. Every year, pilgrims trek across state lines, rivers, and mountain ranges to Mexico City to visit her shrine. They walk in long processions for hundreds of miles to see the Lady of Guadalupe, to kneel before her, pray, and thank her for favors received. It is moving to see these millions of pilgrims in such an extraordinary show of faith.
Celebrations on December 12th
Our Lady of Guadalupe is present in every single day of Mexican life, so the holiday is a big one. There is a little altar dedicated to her in almost every street corner, so there are celebrations all over the country on December 12th. Churches have a festive Mass, and there are fireworks and street fairs. It’s also traditional to have mariachis or another band play music for the Virgin. At Our Lady’s basilica in Mexico City, the country’s biggest celebrity performers gather to sing beneath the holy image.
Usually, family and friends get together on December 12th and have a huge feast in honor of Our Lady. If there is someone in the family whose name is Guadalupe, or Lupita, then the feast is also in her honor. My great-grandmother’s name was Guadalupe, and the whole family used to get together celebrate her. My husband’s grandmother’s name is also Guadalupe, so every year there is a huge family reunion at her place. There’s enough pozole and tamales to go around for a family of dozens!
So, if you are looking for the most Mexican of holidays, forget Cinco De Mayo. December 12th is the real deal! Have some pozole and tamales, and may Our Lady of Guadalupe bless you and comfort you always.