Wednesday, December 14, 2011

La Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadaloupe

At midnight December 11, the bells at the local Templo in Comala began to ring crazily and the sound of firecrackers (cuetes) which had been popping all day became almost continuous. The church was so full that loudspeakers blasted the mass into the jardin. The celebration lasted all night, for many only concluding with the 5 o'clock morning mass.

I stayed at home and watched the celebrations in Tepeyac. This year about 5 million pilgrims congregated at the New Basilica in Tepeyac which is located just outside Mexico City, On television, the millions of pilgrims at the shrine of La Guadalupena began to sing Les Mañanitas

New Basilica in Tepeyac

Las Mañanitas Lyrics: I provide the traditional words in Spanish and English at the end of this post in case you happen to want to know what is being sung more or less The actual words are slightly different as is quite traditional.

Throughout Mexico people crowded the churches to sing, pray and generally celebrate this festival, the most important in their year as far as I can tell. Certainly Easter is more solemn; but since December 12, 1536 when Santa Maria Virgen through her spokesman Juan Diego performed her miracle of the roses and imprinting her image on Juan Diego's cloak (tilpa), the fiesta of the Virgen has become the most celebrated holy event in Mexico.

I say holy event: to a Canadian growing up with Christmas coming in the dead of winter and Protestant/Unitarian to boot, my understanding of a holy event is rather severe. On Christmas morning, up in the Laurentians, before we got to open our presents, we drove to the tiny local Anglican Church (after getting the car to start which could take some time!) The church was chilly, if not downright cold since the wood furnace had not had time to actually heat the place. The hymns were played on the only piano, banged out by a little old lady from the congregation; we wore our gloves and coats, and our breath hung in the air. We sang “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and one or two other such classics. The minister read out the story of Jesus's birth and sermonized about the lack of peace in the world before we were released. If I whispered or got restless, my uncle Cyril behind me pulled my hair to make me sit quiet and be still. To me, Church is grim and God is distant. Holy and fun do not exist in the same universe. Not so here in Mexico.

Templo and jardin in Comala
In Comala which is just a small town, the celebrations for the Virgen began on December 1, and every night they have been getting louder and rowdier. Both weekends there have been charros [which are really rodeos] at the bull ring and the central jardin has been filled with puestos [or stalls] selling Christmas goodies including decorations, especially nacimientos, and all kinds of food and drink. There is also entertainment, dancing, of all sorts, singing, firecrackers, and so on. Every couple of hours the church bells ring and there is another mass.

People wander in and out of the Templo, and the mass is broadcast [I really can use no other word]. During the service, some children scramble around people's feet, while others crawl on their knees down the central aisle of the church from the main door to the altar as a homage to the Virgen. One Saturday, all this went on while at least a dozen families brought their infants for baptism along with the madrinas and padrinos and any other family members who wished to be present. People came and went, quietly and respectfully all the time. I stayed there for a long time.

Basilica in Colima

In Colima, which is the state capital city, everything was much larger and more formal. There was a parade every evening put on by one of the corporations of one of the parishes with floats, bands, costumes, music, candles, prayers. After a long stop at the main basilica, which is dedicated to the Virgen, in the central jardin the processions continued on to their own parish church. On the night of December 11/12 the whole basilica and jardin were filled with celebrants as I learned from one of my friends. As it is every year, I am told. As they are everywhere in Mexico. Everyone is dressed up and out partying, when you get right down to it. Really, church is fun in Mexico.

Why celebrate this particular night and this particular event, you may ask. Well, the Virgen of Guadaloupe is called the Virgen Morena – or the brown Virgen. She chose to be announced to the Spanish bishop by an Indian, Juan Diego and she addressed him as 'the smallest of her children.” Juan Diego is now San Juan Diego since 2002 when Pope John Paul II declared him a saint in a ceremony in Mexico City. This alone is probably a good part of the reason that Pope Jean Paul II is the most popular Pope in Mexico and that the people and Roman Catholic Church in Mexico are very active in the movement for his canonization.

This is just one of the many fiestas in Mexico.  In a couple of weeks it will be Christmas.  Leading up to that we are celebrating again.  You might not know that there is strict separation of church and state in Mexico and no religious activities or education are permitted in the schools.  Yet Roman Catholicism is alive and well.  I am not surprised.


Words of the Mañanitas

Estas son las mañanitas, que cantaba el Rey David,
Hoy por ser día de tu santo, te las cantamos a ti,
Despierta, mi bien, despierta, mira que ya amaneció,
Ya los pajarillos cantan, la luna ya se metió.

Que linda está la mañana en que vengo a saludarte,
Venimos todos con gusto y placer a felicitarte,
Ya viene amaneciendo, ya la luz del día nos dio,
Levántate de mañana, mira que ya amaneció.


This is the morning song that King David sang
Because today is your saint's day we're singing it for you
Wake up, my dear, wake up, look it is already dawn
The birds are already singing and the moon has set

How lovely is the morning in which I come to greet you
We all came with joy and pleasure to congratulate you
The morning is coming now, the sun is giving us its light
Get up in the morning, look it is already dawn

Additional verses:

El día en que tu naciste nacieron todas las flores
En la pila del bautismo, cantaron los ruiseñores

The day you were born all the flowers were born
On the baptismal font the nightingales sang

Quisiera ser solecito para entrar por tu ventana
y darte los buenos días acostadita en tu cama

I would like to be the sunshine to enter through your window
to wish you good morning while you're lying in your bed

Quisiera ser un San Juan, quisiera ser un San Pedro
Para venirte a cantar con la música del cielo

I would like to be a Saint John I would like to be a Saint Peter
To sing to you with the music of heaven

De las estrellas del cielo tengo que bajarte dos
una para saludarte y otra para decirte adiós

Of the stars in the sky I have to lower two for you
One with which to greet you and the other to wish you goodbye

Clothing for la Virgen
Children are dressed often in traditional outfits for the Virgen [white skirts or long pants trimmed with red, white tops with an image of the Virgen embroidered on them and a rebozo or shawl for the girls.


  1. Great posting. I love the way Mexicans celebrate. They know how to have fun. Sounds like you are having a blast.

  2. Boy, am I ever lucky the family gave up on all of that by the time I came along. :)


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