In Guad We Trust

December 12th is the Feast Day of Guadalupe – Patron Saint of Mexico and my absolutely favorite holiday ever.

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Holy cards with medallions of the Virgin for sale on the street. Such very good schwag at this event. More on that in a sec.

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Waiting in a really long line to offer Poinsettia’s to the Virgin and get a blessing.

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If you’ve ever spent time in Southern Mexico, especially Oaxaca and Chiapas, and visited one of the churches, you’ll know that there is something different here. It’s a different kind of Catholic. Way more indigenous or pre-Christian traditions mingle with the Catholic.

Here, people are rubbing there candles on the statue of the Virgin. It’s a kind of cleansing that the brujas do – the indigenous healers. There are lots of different rituals that happen. Even Guadalupe herself, a Mexican woman once whispered to me with a sharply raised eyebrow, is not Catholic.

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The candles placed in front of the Virgin of Guadalupe statue. In the background is the Iglesia Guadalupe where the whole fiesta takes place.

Oaxaca is a tiny city. The historic center is about 20 blocks square. To give you some perspective, there are about 17-21 churches (really big colonial churches) within the 20 block center. I say about 17-21, because every map I see has a different number.

Someday I may just go count them myself.

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People bring their children to be blessed, and the little boys are dressed as Juan Diego (the guy who saw the vision of the Virgen).

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Very adorable to see the babies with their painted-on facial hair. I’m really glad Juan Diego didn’t have a soul patch.

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This was hard to photograph, but there are all of these photo booths set up with various Virgen of Guadalupe scenes, where you can get your kids photos taken. Kind of like a photo with Santa. Only it’s Our Lady.

Most of the booths have a mini nativity set up, where they put newborns in a manger for the photo. Adorable.

Also the sort of scene that opens up my yearning for belonging to a family or community. My expat foreigner loneliness usually only comes up in situations where I am surrounded by people in families. A matriarchal holiday in general that brings up all of my mother/daughter issues. *sigh*

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A basket of onions as an offering. People bring baskets full of all sorts of offerings, the little girls have their own small baskets.

Nice hair pom-pons!

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There were too many people to get close, but this little guy is seated on a real live donkey and screaming is head off. The donkey was unperturbed. Most booths have big stuffed or wooden donkeys and horses for the manger, but there are some real ones, too.

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I wonder who got the idea for the Precious Moments-type Guadalupe?

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These balloons are sold outside the church, and let go inside. So when you’re bored at mass, you can look up and see these stuck to the ceiling.

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Are you low on Saint statues? I am.

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The pilgrimage to the statue goes on all day/all night for a few days. The fence gets filled with Poinsettias. I love visiting at night in the glow of candles.

I have better photos of this day from years past, different times and places in Mexico, which I will attempt to locate and post here.

While it’s my favorite holiday, I was struck by grief that comes up sometimes when I travel. The ways I feel “otherly” and weird and like I don’t belong get amplified.

So I wasn’t taking my best photos. There were no other tourists, so I felt even more vulnerable, and I also felt weird to be photographing people at their sacred event.

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I bought a big, indigo blue candle and put it with the rest. I like knowing that my prayers and blessings are in the company of so many others.

My mood perked up considerably after attending the mariachi midnight mass.

Question: why don’t all masses have mariachi music?

 

2 Responses to In Guad We Trust

  1. Teresa December 26, 2012 at 3:09 pm #

    I experienced another culture in my own country in California when I visited a boyfriend in San Juan Bautista. He was in the Teatro Campasino’s Christmas play about La Virgen and Juan Diego. Boy, was I out of my element there. Not quite Mexico, but it did provide me with a glimpse of what that might feel like should things have gone in that direction (which they did not). I experienced some of those feelings of not being with family and being an outsider to that community. Weird and vulnerable, yup. Someone there gave me a not too kind nickname which I still remember to this day because of the truth that was in it. Sigh.

  2. Laura Bucci December 20, 2012 at 5:29 pm #

    Living in another culture and experiencing someone else feasts and celebrations is a real treat. It provides quite a contrast to our North American culture. Thanks for writing about this. One of the celebrations I’d like to see soon I hope, is Semana Santa in Antigua, Guatemala. That’s holy week at Easter time.

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