The Lupe Reyes Marathon – Part II

So you began the season dancing and singing to a religious icon… or at least watching. Even tourists can watch the processions, regardless of their religious inclinations. If you’re lucky enough, you caught a reliquia and ate till you felt either satisfied or embarrassed for taking someone else’s food for free (you should not feel embarrassed, as taking free food is entirely the point of a reliquia… but some of us are so overwhelmingly shy!). And the season is only starting! So what’s next? Read on and you’ll see.

Las Posadas.
(December 13 to 23)

Posada in Spanish means inn. It can also mean lodgings, accommodation so pedir posada would literally mean ask for accommodation for the night. A few decades ago (I lived this as a kid) these parties would have a ritual on their own, as their intention is to commemorate the trek of Mary and Joseph to find a lodging where she could give birth. As such, the tradition dictated that the posada attendees would split in two groups. One would remain inside the house, as ‘the house keeper’, and the other would step outside, taking on the role of ‘Joseph’. Both groups right by the door, the outside group would begin singing thus:

En el nombre del cielo,
os pido posada,
pues no puede andar,
mi esposa amada…

To which, the inside group would reply in song:

Aquí no es mesón,
Sigan adelante;
Yo no puedo abrir,
No sea un tunante…

The song goes on with both groups alternating between verses as Joseph begs for lodging and the house keeper denies it until they find out it is Joseph and Mary at their doorstep, at which point the door opens and the outside people steps in, both groups holding luces de Bengala (tiny fireworks consisting in a thin, straigh wire with one end coated in material which, when ignited, gives off bright sparkles which are completely harmless), and singing as follows:

Entren, santos peregrinos, peregrinos,
Reciban este rincón.
Que aunque es pobre la morada, la morada,
Os la doy de corazón.

Thus the festivities started, and there was fruit punch (very different from what U.S. and likely Canada are used to seeing) and other nice foods. This is also where the piñata originally comes from. In more ancient times it was a representation of the struggle of man against temptation (hence its design resembled a star of seven points, representing the Seven Deadly Sins), but its religious significance has been almost completely lost. As attendees whacked the piñata with a good old stick, everyone around would sing:

Dale, dale, dale,
No pierdas el tino,
Por que si lo pierdes
Pierdes el camino.

Tradition that endures (if tenuously) in birthday parties, although the old seven-point star has become little more than a symbol. So those were the posadas of old, the ones I knew as a child. Nowadays… they are more like parties where one eats and gets drunk.

Día de Reyes.
(Day of the Three Wise Men, January 6)

What Americans and Canadians know as the Wise men, Latinos call Reyes Magos, or Sorcerer Kings. I know, it sounds kind of ominous (blame Tolkien!), but they are as nice and mystic as your Wise Men. Fun fact, many regions of Latin America traditionally receive their gifts not on Christmas morning, but on the morning of January 6, and it is not Santa Claus who delivers them, but the Reyes Magos. Under this tradition, you leave your shoes (not stockings) out by your bed for the Reyes to leave your gifts. Regions like Mexico City still hold to this folklore, but Northerners like me were close enough to our gringo neighbors to fall under Santa’s jurisdiction.

What remains universal from north to south is the celebration. On the 6 we gather and eat the Rosca de Reyes, or king’s ring, a cake decorated with dry fruit and with a sweet coating all over, which holds within its doughy recesses one or sometimes two tiny effigies that vaguely resemble a baby (as a representation of Baby Jesus). Whoever finds an effigy within their slice of rosca is traditionally bound to throw a party with tamales and atole on the Día de la Candelaria, or Candlemas, which is on February 2. This last tradition, however, is hardly ever enforced, at least in my experience.

And this would be why the Marathon’s ‘surname’ is Reyes. Usually this is considered to end the Marathon, but there is one more festivity that definitely ends the chain of holidays.

Día de la Candelaria
(Candlemas Day, February 2)

Officially a day devoted to the Lady of Candelaria (another title of the Virgin Mary), in Mexico this is when a party with tamales and atole is (supposed to be) thrown. Tradition dictates that an effigy (about natural size) of Baby Jesus is dressed in white, presented in mass and laid down on a shrine to stay there for the rest of the year.

I hope you enjoyed this short tour through Mexican style holidays, a nice mix of Prehispanic and religious tradition. For now I bid thee a see ya soon hoping that you had a good time this Christmas with your friends and loved ones. The year is almost at an end, and that invites fresh reflections on what we did this year and what we shall accomplish the next. We’ll talk about that soon.

See you next week.


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