The Mexican festival of Los Santos Inocentes (the innocent saints) is similar to our April Fools’ Day. It is celebrated on December 28th and it was originally to recall the innocent children killed by King Herod.
It was known at first as a day when you could borrow something and not have to return it, so people would try to trick others into lending them something valuable on that day. Nowadays it is a day for practical jokes in general.
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Las Posadas are processions which take place in Mexico on nine consecutive evenings leading up to Christmas Eve. A boy and a girl are chosen to represent Mary and Joseph and they process through the town, carrying lanterns and candles, and re-enacting the story of Joseph and Mary being turned away from the inns.
They sing at each of the houses they stop at. Each night a different house is chosen to be the one that offers shelter, and a party is hosted there. There is a meal with carols (called villancicos), small gifts of fruit and sweets are exchanged and the children break a piñata shaped like a star.
The Virgin Mary is the patron saint of Mexico. The story says that she appeared three times in December 1531 to a poor man by the name of Juan Diego. Each time, she told him to tell the bishop to build a church on that spot.
After the first two appearances the bishop didn’t believe the story, but after the third time a rose bush grew on the spot where she had appeared, and her image could be seen on Juan Diego’s cloak. After that, the bishop believed him and the church, the Basilica de Guadeloupe, was built.
The festival of the Virgin of Guadeloupe begins the Christmas celebrations in Mexico. It lasts for nine Days, from 3rd to 12th December and pilgrimages are made to the church during this time. On the 11th December there are fireworks and light displays and people dance until the following morning which is her feast day.
Once upon a time, everyone in Mexico was taking flowers to the church. It was Christmas time and they were taking them to offer the baby Jesus as a welcoming gift.
One young girl was so poor that she couldn’t afford any flowers, so she stopped at the roadside and gathered up a bunch of weeds. People pointed and laughed at her as she arrived at the church.
“You can’t give weeds to the baby Jesus!” said one lady, horrified.
“Show some respect or go away!” cried a young man in disgust.
Undeterred, she made her way to the Nativity scene, and laid her weeds alongside the many extravagant gifts near the manger. Suddenly the weeds transformed into the most beautiful flowers of the deepest red, with rich, lush green leaves.
Everybody gasped in disbelief at this miracle, and the flowers became known as Flores de Nochebuena (Christmas Eve flowers, or Holy Night flowers).
To this day these flowers bloom every December, and are the ones we know as poinsettia.
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.