The month of December teems with holidays, saints’ days, and festivals throughout Mexico and the Yucatan. As in most other Catholic countries, the beginning of December marks the time to celebrate the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This holiday, near and dear to our hearts here at Hacienda Petac, features a few weeks of masses and pilgrimages that culminate in a feast for the Virgin Mary on December 8th. A holy day of obligation, it is filled with folk dances, decorations, and, as ever, plenty of food.
Four days later, on December 12th, our region honors the Blessed Virgin again with the celebration of her icon, the Virgin of Guadalupe. The story of the Virgin and how she came to be the patroness of Mexico dates as far back as 1531, when she appeared miraculously before Aztec-born Juan Diego as he traveled near what is now Mexico City.
As the story goes, the apparition of the Virgin Mary, beautiful and shining on the hillside, came into view before Juan Diego, offered him kind words, and asked for his help to build a shrine in her honor. Uncertain, he sought advice from the Spanish archbishop, who demanded proof of Mary’s existence. Three days later, on December 12th, the Virgin appeared before Juan Diego once more, calling him, “her son” and gently suggesting that he go pick roses from a nearby valley – a place that, during December, grew no flowers. Juan Diego followed her instructions, found the promised roses and returned to the archbishop. When he opened his tilma, or cloak, to reveal the miraculous flowers, an image of the Virgin herself was emblazoned on the inside of it. Stunned and impressed, the archbishop ordered the building of the church after the Virgin and Juan Diego became legendary.
Not until 1745 did the Vatican recognize Juan Diego’s vision as a genuine miracle, but by that time the apparition was already dubbed the Virgin of Guadalupe and the story was enmeshed in Mexican celebrations and folklore. The basilica, indeed built on the spot that she requested, still houses the original tilma with the untarnished image of the Virgin on the inside.
Not a strictly Catholic icon, La Virgen de Guadalupe is portrayed as a young Indian woman with traditional clothing – including a cloak of the color we call Maya blue – and has come to represent the blending of Spanish, Aztec and Mayan cultures. At Hacienda Petac we feature a modern figure of La Guadalupe in the large chapel that serves the village and in which we have wedding ceremonies. She is now the most popular religious and cultural symbol of the area and is celebrated for two weeks each December with daily parades leading up to the 12th, various sacrifices, food, dance and much prayer. Children dress as Juan Diego, donning moustaches and cloaks, and adults fashion altars to the Virgin from palm fronds, flowers and balloons.
If visiting Hacienda Petac in the next few weeks or the area nearby, you might even see one of our favorite parts of the holiday: the Virgin’s torch runners. The runners, who have trained throughout the year, go throughout the city and across the country with torches alight in honor of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Some plan long lone expeditions all of the way to Mexico City, some are cheered on by a motorcade, some participate in relays and travel short distances, but all run as thanks for prayers fulfilled in the past year or as promises for the upcoming one. By 10 am on December 12th, the runners return to Mérida, where processionals, music, confetti and fireworks welcome them to morning mass and the rest of the day’s celebrations.
This time of the year makes us feel a bit nostalgic here at Hacienda Petac, and we find ourselves humbled every time we walk past the Hacienda’s modern statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe as she sits in the beautiful, full-sized chapel on the Hacienda grounds. We aren’t the only ones, already are there sounds of fireworks from the village in anticipation of the celebrations. Come see La Guadalupe for yourself, hear the mañanitas, the morning songs that people sing on the way to Mass, eat some poc choc, and cheer for the torch runners as they make their way to the city.