Dia de la Candelaria
Dia de la Candelaria Marks the End of the Mexican Holiday Season and Heralds the Arrival of Spring
by Tara A. Spears
In a country that loves its celebrations, the observance of Candlemas, February 2, is the official closure to the Mexican holiday season. After the family gathering, it’s time to take down all the Christmas decor and welcome the spring season. It is also ‘payback day’ for those who found a figure in their portion of the Day of Kings cake (January 6): this person is obligated to host a party of atole and tamales for all their family and friends. The Mexican celebration of Día de la Candelaria is an acknowledgement of both the European and pre-Hispanic traditions, as tamales were used as offerings to the god of water, Tláloc, to ensure abundant rains for a plentiful harvest.
Religious Roots: February 2nd falls forty days after Christmas, which date Catholics observe as the “Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin” or as the “Presentation of the Lord.” According to Jewish law a woman was considered unclean for 40 days after giving birth so it was customary to bring a baby to the temple after that period of time had passed. It is believed that the infant Jesus would have been taken to the temple on February second. On this day, believers honor “the rising of the Baby Jesus,” which consists of people carrying images and figures of baby Jesus to be blessed at the church.
Another important custom in Mexico, particularly in areas where traditions run strong, is for families to own an image of the Christ child, a niño Dios. At times a godparent is chosen for the niño Dios, who is then responsible for hosting various celebrations between Christmas and Candlemas. First, on Christmas Eve the niño Dios is placed in the Nativity scene; on January 6th, King’s Day, the Christ child is brought presents from the Magi; and on February 2nd, the icon is dressed in fine clothes and presented in the church.
Other cultures around the world also take note of February 2nd as it marks the point between the winter solstice and spring equinox. This date is regarded as a superstitious day in various cultures. In many places it is traditionally a time to prepare the earth for spring planting. In the United States February 2 is observed as groundhog day- with the groundhog’s shadow predicting the arrival of spring. Even if the groundhog sees his shadow, there is still a long winter ahead. On needs to remember that these traditional parties originated before North America had the Super Bowl as a reason to party with friends during the worst of winter. But in Mexico, the mid-winter party is “Día de la Candelaria” (Day of the Candles), a celebration based on religious influences, pagan traditions and weather superstitions that celebrates spring’s arrival.