Candlemas is celebrated on February 2nd. It is 40 days after 25th December, and so it is believed to be the day that Mary was purified after giving birth and therefore the day that Jesus was first taken to the temple.

The date is known as Candlemas because in the 11th century all candles that were going to be used in church that year were blessed, and people took their own candles to church to be blessed also.

In Mexico the date is called Día de la Candelaria and it marks the end at the Christmas celebrations. The baby Jesus is taken from the Nativity scene and dressed in a special outfit before being taken to church to be blessed. According to tradition, whoever found the baby Jesus charm inside the Roscón on 6th January has to buy the tamales (chicken and meat wrapped in corn dough) for the party after the Candelaria ceremony.

February 2nd is also linked to many non-Christian festivals relating to hopes and prayers for a good harvest later in the year. It is the date of the pagan festival of Imbolc, the Roman festival of Lupercalia and a Mexican festival were the indigenous villages took their corn to be blessed before planting.

Mexican Independence Day

16th September is Independence Day in Mexico. It commemorates Miguel Hidalgo’s cry for freedom of 16th September 1810, which began the uprising, although Mexico didn’t actually gain independence until 28th September 1821.

Miguel Hidalgo, a priest, along with Ignacio Allende, Miguel Dominguez and Juan Aldama and a few others, inspired by their neighbour USA’s successful fight for independence only a few decades previously, had been conspiring for some time to overthrow the Spanish ruling elite so that the country’s wealth could be shared more equally amongst the country’s poor folk. They were going to take their plan to the people in October, but when word of their conspiracy got out, and people from their group began to be arrested and tried for treason they knew they had to act more quickly.

On 16th September 1810, Hidalgo made his famous speech from a church pulpit in the town of Dolores in the north-east of Mexico, motivating people to rise up against their oppressors. Within just a few minutes he had raised a band of 600 men, who despite being poorly armed, with only rocks and stones as weapons, began their march to Mexico City.

Twelve days later, they had an army of about 30,000 men. Despite his charisma, Hidalgo was inexperienced as a military leader and the first uprising did not go well. He was captured and tried for treason, and was executed on 30th July 1811. His head was hung up as a deterrent to others. The fight could have ended there if some of his officers had not picked up the baton and continued.

From 1815 to 1821 fighting was mostly by guerrilla groups rather than battles. Eventually, Mexico was granted independence in 1821.

Nowadays in Mexico, the Independence Day celebrations begin at 11pm on 15th September, with the town officials re-enacting the cry for freedom, or el Grito de Dolores (the cry of Dolores) as it is known. The 16th is a public holiday, and is celebrated with street parties, with food, with music and dancing, with fires and fireworks, and with people flying the Mexican flag.