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The Festival of Our Lady of Guadalupe

December 15, 2011

From December 1 to December 12, Mexico celebrates one of the most important figures of the Church calendar with the Festival of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The story begins in 1531 when a simple shepherd, Juan Diego, recently converted to Catholicism, had a vision of the Virgin Mary who told him that she wanted a church built on the hillside. When  Juan reported this to the bishop he demanded further proof, so Juan went back to the hillside where the Virgin appeared to him again, and this time she told him to pick some roses blooming on the hillside. Of course roses were out of season at that time. Juan gathered them in his cloak and brought them to the bishop, but when he opened the cloak to reveal the roses which tumbled out, an image of the Virgin had been miraculously imprinted on the cloak. This cloak still remains today in the huge church which now crowns the hillside, the culmination of the many churches which have been constructed there.

You can read more detail of this at this website: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Lady_of_Guadalupe

The point of this story of course is to introduce you to the Festival as it is celebrated here in Puerto Vallarta. The main church here is La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe or The Church of our Lady of Guadalupe. For 12 nights, beginning on December 1, processions make their way to the church to honour the Virgin and to receive the blessings of the priest and the Virgin herself.

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Yeah I know. The church is not leaning like the tower at Pisa, as it seems to here.

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Here is one of the trucks that are usually part of the procession.  A young girl dressed as the Virgin is carried on the truck to the church where she dismounts and leads the faithful into the church for the blessing. The faithful themselves are from the various parishes around the city and surrounding country side as well as the staff of many of the businesses of PV who walk in the procession to honour their virgin.

The processions continue every night for the entire 12 days. In the processions there are often mariachi bands, marketing bands, Aztec dancers and just ordinary folk carrying their candles.

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These dresses are called Mariposas (butterflies) and the women dance in them with their charros (Cowboys).

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The swirl of colour is entrancing.

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This banner is being carried by staff of the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. It reads “Little Mother, we sit at your feet with humility thanking you for all your blessings” in my rather rough translation.Image

Mariachi bands in their finery. Mariachi is actually a form of music which began in Western Mexico, including Jalisco, the state where Puerto Vallarta lies.

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Many of the floats carry not only the Virgin, but also a young boy (or even an older man) who sits at the feet of the Virgin. He represents Juan Diego; usually he is dressed in rough, although beautifully clean, homespun cotton clothing. Sometimes you will see little boys on the street dressed as Juan, sporting a little black moustache.

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A rather young marching band. I didn’t hear them play so cannot comment on their skills.

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I don’t know who these young people represent, but some of the young women are certainly well dressed for the occasion.

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Aztecs dance in brightly coloured costumes with extravagant headdresses.

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Patriotism is proudly on display too, as this Mexican flag attests.

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One of the many traditions of the processions is to deliver food, flowers, pictures of the Virgin and other things to be blessed at the church.

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Another long standing tradition of the Festival is the food for purchase. Here our friend Ken is negotiating for three pieces of flan for himself, Terry and Don. I had to help with translation On the table you can see cheesecake with strawberries (fresh), flan and the double layered chocolate cake topped with flan – all quite delicious. There are stalls on all the side streets near the church selling these desserts, but also tamales, tortas (sandwiches), atole (a sweet corn drink), chopped hot dogs with chips and much much more.

And I confess, this is what we did one of the evenings we went to see the processions, a long standing tradition in the Catholic Church from my experience. However this particular game did not benefit the parish of Guadalupe at all.

We’ve made it to Bingo at No Borders four times and have come home with four prizes! Not a bad haul. The other guys at this table are denizens of Frida Bar – the guy opposite me with the red T-shirt is Luis, one of the owners of Frida.

On December 11 we went down to the street in the afternoon to find it full of local people parading to the church in their white finery. They stood 10 across and moved slowly and patiently along the street until they could reach the church itself where they entered to receive their blessings. Unfortunately we did not have a camera that afternoon, so we cannot show you the extent of the crowd. But they were quiet, peaceable and patient as they stood for minutes at a time, and inched slowly forward in the mid day heat to have their opportunity to honour their Virgin.

I am always amazed at how many participate in this yearly tradition in Puerto Vallarta. It is certainly a testament to their faith.

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One Comment
  1. Bill McFarlane permalink

    Thank you for posting this great account of the way Mexican people celebrate the festive season. The town must be buzzing!

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