February 2, 2011

Día de la Candelaria

Today, in Mexico, it is Día de la Candelaria (Day of Candles). The name of the holiday might be unfamiliar to those of other cultures, but the meaning behind it won't be. February 2nd has been celebrated throughout the world since ancient times. It might be called Imbolc, Candlemas, Groundhog Day or a host of other titles, but they are all marking the same turning of the wheel of the year. Spring is officially on its way.

Día de la Candelaria

Candeleria, Imbolc and all of the rest aren't interchangeable festivals, but they do share many of the same themes. In astronomical terms, it takes place at the mid-way point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. In agricultural areas, it's the moment when seeds are being sorted for planting, while ewes lactate in readiness for lambs. It's the quickening of nature preparing for spring. It's an awakening, after the slowing down for winter. It's a bounce in the step, because the darkness is all behind us and summer beckons in our future.

In Catholic Mexico, Candeleria naturally resonates around the Holy family of Mary, Joseph and Jesus. Presentation of Jesus at the Temple February 2nd is 'Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin' in the Catholic calendar.

This was the day when Mother Mary ritually cleansed herself and her infant, then presented him at the temple. As a Jew, she would have been bound by temple law, which stated that a woman was unclean for 40 days after giving birthday. Candeleria was when those 40 days ended.

Accordingly, this is often celebrated by Mexicans as a day of renewal and purification. It is a time to visit church themselves, for Mass and a blessing. This includes taking candles into the church, so that they can be returned home and lit there to extend those good tidings into the home. Hence the name, 'Day of Candles'. This point will be emphasised by a family meal, where everyone gets together. After all, what blessing is more significant than being surrounded by loved ones?

Of course, this wouldn't be Mexico, if all of this didn't turn into a party somewhere along the way! Some holiday-makers, especially in Tlacotalpan and Veracruz, could well find themselves being joyously welcomed into a full-blown fiesta. Street parades aren't uncommon. It's all good fun, so please do join in.

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