February 2, or Candlemas, is celebrated throughout the Catholic world as the end of the Christmas season. It marks the 40 days after the birth of Jesus, when Mary goes to the Temple in Jerusalem to purify herself.
In Hebrew tradition, this is the mikveh ritual bath. In Catholicism, it has become embedded in the cyclical annual calendar that marks the story of the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus.
In the mask-making village of Tocuaro, just outside Patzcuaro along the lake, master wood-carvers make masks depicting the devil. The masks become part of an elaborate costume for Candlemas re-enactment in the church courtyard on February 2, starting at 5 p.m.
The re-enactment is like a play that depicts the forces of good and evil. The hero Michael Arcangel fights and slays Lucifer, represented by three devils, forever banishing them from earth to the underworld. The masks and costumes are elaborate and scary, especially for children.
During the conquest, throughout Mexico, priests from the Dominican, Franciscan and Augustinian orders, integrated Catholic rites with indigenous practices. This is called syncretism.
Candlemas marks the end of winter and the beginning of the planting season when days begin to lengthen and the earth warms for plowing. In ancient times, this was signaled by the alignment of the stars of Orion.
With the conquest, the agricultural cycle aligns with the Christian calendar and the beginning of Lent. Spiritual forces of light prevail and overcome darkness, allowing the “light of Jesus” to enter the world.
At the 40-day mark, Mary brings baby Jesus to the Temple for the priestly blessing, bringing candles for the altar. Hence the name Candlemas. The term Pastorela refers to procession of shepherds who accompany her. This officially marks the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of the next cycle, the Easter season.
We learn all this through our Patzcuaro guide Jaime Hernandez Balderas as our Michoacan Folk Art Study Tour participants enjoyed an afternoon with famed mask-maker Felipe Horta and his family before going to the Pastorela at the church.
Why is February 2 called Tamale Day in Mexico?
In Europe, bread is the offering. In Mexico, it is corn. Let’s go back to Christmas and January 6, Three Kings Day or Epiphany. Every family celebrates by eating a piece of Rosca de Reyes. Hidden inside is a baked-in plastic figure of baby Jesus. Whomever gets the little doll is blessed with providing tamales for the entire family on Candlemas. Sometimes, this requires feeding several hundred people. So, now, we can find eight or ten figures baked inside the large round loaf to spread the expense.
Rosca de Reyes and Three Kings Day in Oaxaca
Here in Oaxaca the tradition is to celebrate Three Kings Day, Dia de los Reyes, January 6, with gift-giving to the children. Godparents visit the homes of godchildren, godchildren come to the homes of godparents.
Rosca de Reyes topped with candied fruits, stuffed with plastic Baby Jesus
They will present a Rosca de Reyes, that translates to wreath of the kings. They sit down to a cup of steaming, frothy hot chocolate, locally made, tear off a piece of Rosca, dunk, sip and eat.
Hard to tell what’s under wraps here.
Surprise, the sweet egg bread covered in candied fruit, is stuffed with little plastic Baby Jesus dolls. Whomever gets one in their piece of bread gets to host the Candlemas party on February 2, forty days after Jesus’ birthday. There will be a lot of parties around here. The dolls are plentiful. Forty is a magic number.
A gift-wrapped Rosca de Reyes, Mexico’s colors
Is this Mexican Christmas? Three Kings Day occurs twelve days after December 25, when the astronomers, called Magi, gave gifts to honor the birth of Jesus.
A stack of Rosca de Reyes, simpler version, still yummy.
Mexico has an amazing cycle of festivals occurring with regularity around the calendar, moving from one season to the next, opening and closing Christmas, moving into the Easter season with Lent and Carnival. It seems that there is not a week of respite here.
Another version of Rosca de Reyes, topped with a sugar dough crust
This is a country of celebration.
Today in the Teotitlan del Valle market, bakers of Rosca de Reyes proudly displayed their artisanry. They came from here, from Tlacolula and from Santo Domingo near Tule. Some gave out samples to lure customers. It worked for me.
By 10:30 a.m. almost all the Rosca’s were sold out and bakers folded up their tablecloths. The best, made with egg bread, called pan de yema, went first.
Selling Rosca de Reyes in the Teotitlan del Valle market. This is a BIG ONE.
The bread makes a great gift, if I don’t eat it all! And at 30 pesos each for a small one, it’s a real value. That’s about $1.50 USD for handmade edibles.
Tortilla sellers in the open air Teotitlan market
Toy and clothing sellers filled the market, too. Many were families visiting from the USA who bring things to sell to help cover their travel expenses.
Berta selling ingredients for Sopa de Guias
Sopa de guias, squash vine, squash blossom, squash and corn soup, is a specialty this time of year, too. All the ingredients are available at various stalls.
Fresh greens are an essential part of the diet here.
Some of the ladies bring their produce from the town of Benito Juarez, high on the mountain about an hour from here. They lay out their blankets, top them with produce, and sit, shucking corn and cutting vines.
Teotitlan del Valle Iglesia Preciosa Sangre de Cristo
It’s warm here now. Daytime temperatures are in the low 70’s Fahrenheit, and it dips down to about 48 degrees at night. Skies are clear blue. It’s a perfect place to be in winter. Please visit us.
Posted in Cultural Commentary, Food & Recipes, Teotitlan del Valle
Tagged Christmas, Dia de Tres Reyes, Kings Bread, Mexico, Oaxaca, Rosca de Reyes, Teotitlan del Valle, Three Kings Day