Flowers and Culture Brighten the Candelaria Fair
By Jesús Aguado
The time of La Candelaria Fair matches with the ending and beginning of the solar cycle from the Mesoamerican culture, when the seed needs to be blessed in order to give new life to plants and flowers. Nowadays, the corridors of Juárez park are covered with thousands of plants and flowers each year. Their fragrance perfumes the air for customers and vendors. This flower fair is complemented with a cultural program that lasts for two weeks, beginning on Friday, January 30, and ending on Monday, February 9.
According to Catholic tradition, February 2 marks the 41st day after the birth of Baby Jesus. According to Mosac law, women of that time needed to stay at home for 40 days after childbirth in order to purify their bodies. On the very next day they were to go to the temple to complete the purification. It has been said that when Virgin Mary presented Jesus in the temple Simeon told her, “he will be the light of the gentile and the glory of Israel.” The designation of Mary as the Virgin of Candelaria (from the Latin: candle, light) is another name to honor her. She is identified in art as carrying baby Jesus as well as carrying a candle in her left hand.
In the country, the Candelaria is the day when the nativity scene set up on December 24 must be removed. The “Niños Dioses” (baby Jesus figures) are dressed up with colorful clothes and taken to mass, carried in baskets full of candies, flowers, or fruit. The cycle closes with the promises of the tamales and atole that are paid by those who found the statuette of baby Jesus on January 6, when the rosca de reyes was cut. The figures are hidden in the rosca as a reminder of Herod’s persecution and killing of babies. The tamales and atole are linked to corn, a grain that, according to the old Mesoamericans, needed to be blessed following the solar cycle.
Cultural and environmental activist Arturo Morales Tirado comments that the celebration of Candelaria is not new in this country. The date has been celebrated since ancient times by native Mesoamericans. According to Morales, the old natives used to follow the solar calendar, and they knew that February 2 was the date when the seeds needed to be blessed to give life to more plants and humans. Later the tradition was merged with Catholicism, and the dates matched with the Virgin of Candelaria.
Morales Tirado comments that the tradition of celebrating the Candelaria Fair in San Miguel was started approximately 55 years ago by a producer and vendor of plants and flowers, Bruno Galicia, from Cuautla Morelos, and the Morales family from Puebla. Both families participated in traveling flower fairs, and each January they used to attend to the festivities in León, Guanajuato. One day, they had the idea to come to San Miguel and asked for a permit to sell their plants in the historic center. It was February 2 the first time the permit was granted, and the plants were sold in one of the arcades.
After the Galicia and Morales families, more vendors started coming to San Miguel until it was not just a sale of plants, but a flower fair, filled with fragrance and color. Morales comments that the vendors started occupying the Jardín Principal as well as the esplanade, and they contributed to improve the municipal gardens with plants and flowers. Later, the fair was moved to Juárez Park. Now it is in charge of the local government, which has included the two-week cultural pogram.
Vigil of the Holy Cross
The fair officially begins on Friday, January 30, at 8am, offering plants, potting soil, fertilizer, and gardening tools for sale. A traditional parade is held at 11am. It features live music, mojigangas (giant puppets), allegoric cars, dancers, and crazies. The parade goes from calzada de la Aurora to Juárez Park. For two weeks the fair features northern bands, pre-Hispanic and folkloric dancers, Christmas plays, mariachi bands, and environmental workshops.
A holy cross was placed at Juárez Park in 2006, and a vigil ceremony has been held every year since then. The ritual is in charge of the community of Sagrado Corazón de Jesús and the group of concheros from el Valle del Maíz. Gerardo Estrada, captain of the concheros from el Valle, explains that the ceremony is to ask God for protection for all those vendors, customers, and people involved in the fair. The vigil starts with a request for permission to hold the ritual. For that it is necessary to place a decorative arrangement of flowers and a candle on the ground. After the permission is requested, four candles are lit and are placed in the directions of the four winds. The candles have received the name of a person who passed away and who will have the task to deliver the message to God. When the candles are totally burned, that is a signal that the Lord received the message. In early morning, the concheros start singing praises while others are preparing adornments for the holy cross, which are placed later, and music from the mandolin continues until dawn. The vigil starts on Sunday, February 1, at 10pm, and ends on Monday, February 2, at 6am.
Blessing of the Seed
Estrada comments that his father was a conchero who passed away 30 years ago. “I wanted to continue with the rituals and the traditions so I started my own group” he said. For 25 years ago, these concheros have been invited by the organizers of the fair to participate in holding the ancient ritual for blessing the seeds. “Those who do not know or do not understand the ritual must observe and respect what we do,” noted Estrada. The ceremony consists of a plea to God, asking for his blessing of the seeds. People are allowed to bring their seeds so they can produce new plants, flowers, and fruit to feed humanity. A special chant is sung to the four winds, and the incense delivers the message to God. The ritual will be held on Monday, February 2, at 11am, preceded by the religious blessing of stands and plants by the priest from the church of San Antonio at 10am.