The Twelve Days of the Festival of Guadalupe
as written by the author for the Calgary Herald
December 24th, 2010
It is December in Puerto Vallarta and my arrival has coincided with the most important Mexican celebration of the year: the Festival of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The number of miracles attributed to the Virgen Morena (dark-skinned virgin) are countless and each December for twelve days, the people of Mexico honor her in astounding numbers.
On December 9th, 1531, a beautiful, dark-skinned woman appeared to Juan Diego, a simple peasant. Speaking to him in Nahuatl, his native language, she declared herself the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe and bore a message of love, compassion, and a promise to help mankind. The skeptical Spanish bishop requested proof of Juan Diego’s claim. When Juan returned, the virgin advised him to pick roses from the nearby hill to bring to the bishop. As he dropped the bundle of flowers before the bishop, a perfect image of the virgin was emblazoned on Juan’s tilma, a thin cloth made of cactus fibers. Today, the cloth still hangs in the Basilica de Guadalupe in Mexico City, perfectly preserved.
The image of the Virgin
of Guadalupe, one that has indigenous symbols interwoven into the traditional depiction of the Virgin Mary, is the most popular cultural and religious icon throughout Mexico. As with the Day of the Dead celebrations, there is a blend of Christian imagery and traditions and indigenous symbolism found in the rituals and costumes.
Beginning December 1st, Juarez Street is closed to traffic where processions begin before sunset and end with mass in the city’s central cathedral. Shops, hotels, restaurants, airlines, schools, banks¬–even sailors¬–participate in the parade-like processions. Colorful floats with virgins and angels fill the street interspersed with wandering mariachis, indigenous dancers with colorfully painted bodies in great plumes of feathers, bands, and candle-bearing singers chanting the festival’s anthem, La Guadalupana.
Along the side streets and in the main square, locals bring out their best regional dishes. Tamales, tacos, tostadas, and other savory delights are available in abundance. The freshly baked desserts are irresistibly delicious with a variety of flans, cakes, and pies. The piece de resistance is coco-flan, a cake with a caramel flan top and moist chocolate cake bottom. The prices are excellent and the dining is “safe,” making it a great event for foreigners to experiment
with Mexico’s cuisine.
The climate this time of year is perfect for enjoying the festivities: warm in the daytime with temperatures hovering around 25 degrees and then cool evening breezes requiring only a sweater.
All ages come out in droves to partake in the festivities; however, the twelve days of the Festival of Guadalupe is an event for the children to shine. Tiny tots are proudly dressed in immaculate, traditional attire and are treated to a wide assortment of goodies and whirling and sparkling toys.
The festival builds momentum on December 11th with everyone gathering in and around the church at midnight to sing Las Mañanitas (the Mexican rendition of happy birthday) for the Virgin of Guadalupe’s birthday.
On December 12th the event culminates with the torchbearer’s arrival from Mexico City. Eight runners take turns with the torch, which is lit at the basilica in Mexico City, for approximately 80 hours night and day.
The official Christmas season kicks off four days later on December 16th with the first of the colorful and loud posadas (parties).
Festival Food Guide
Tamales are a corn masa dough filled with chicken, pork, and cheese with green
peppers, etc. wrapped in a cornhusk and steamed. Tamales Oaxaqueños (from the region of Oaxaca, pronounced Wa-ha-ka) are larger, moister and prepared in
a banana leaf, the most popular being chicken mole. Tamales dulces are sweet.
Mole is a thick, gravy-like sauce, the most common in this region being mole poblano. It is rich and dark brown, consisting of numerous ingredients that are ground and roasted including nuts, peppers, spices, and chocolate. Delicious!
Pozole is a hardy, pre-Hispanic soup made with a base of various meats, large dried corn kernels, chiles, onions, garlic, tomatoes, cabbage, and lime juice.
Tostadas are hard tacos (flat) loaded with chicken or beef with shredded cabbage, tomatoes, and onion. The tostada can be topped with salsa, thick cream, and crumbled queso fresco (cheese).
Authentic tacos are traditionally small, soft corn tortillas topped with a variety of diced, barbequed meats. You’re offered a choice of toppings of onion and cilantro, green and red salsas, avocado salsa, and–for the brave–piquant hot salsas.
Elote is Mexican corn, commonly served shucked and mixed with melted butter, mayonnaise, cotija cheese and lime juice.
Carne asada is a tasty, marinated skirt steak (beef) that is
Agua de Jamaica is a ruby red colored drink made from hibiscus flowers. Rich in Vitamin C.
Horchata is a popular drink made with from rice, water, cinnamon, sugar, and lime zest.
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