Have you ever noticed that on February 2 Mérida becomes filled with Tamales? This is because Candlemass is celebrated during this time of year. This is a Catholic celebration, the day on which believers bring their candles and Holy Child figures to be blessed at church. Candlemass occurs 40 days after Christmas.
Besides eating Tamales, another tradition on Candlemass is to dress the Holy Child figures in a special outfit. You can find different styles and designs at the local markets. This traditional festivity is also connected to the Mexica festivity of the Sun, or the start of the Atlcahualo (the crop season), when people would bless the corn that would be planted in hopes of obtaining a good harvest. Today, due to the fusion of pre-Hispanic traditions and Catholicism, people eat tamales and prepare hot chocolate to share with friends, family, and neighbors on this day.
A fun fact you probably didn’t know is that whoever finds a figurine of Baby Jesus hidden in the Rosca de Reyes (a sweet bread served on January 6 to celebrate the arrival of the Three Wise Men), is who must buy the Tamales on Candlemass. So remember, if you found this figurine about a month ago… Yep, you have to bring the Tamales.
Tamales in Yucatán differ from those found in the rest of the country. Local Tamales are called Vaporcitos because of how they’re prepared: they are wrapped in banana leaf and then steamed. Usually, they’re filled with chicken, pork, or turkey meat. You can also find Colado-style Tamales in Yucatán. Their dough is sieved through a fine mesh to obtain a soft, pillow-y texture. Then, they are steamed and wrapped in banana leaf. These Tamales are usually filled with chicken, so if you are vegan or vegetarian, it’s probably best if you plan on bringing your own lunch that day.
Candlemass has been celebrated for years in countries like Spain, Argentina, and Italy. In Mérida, the church that has the Virgen de la Candelaria as its patron saint is found in Calle 67 x 64 Centro; however, the Barrio de la Candelaria in Valladolid (about two hours from Mérida) is very popular as well. From morning until late evening, watch the procession of people taking their Holy Child figures to the church to be blessed. This is a great opportunity to get closer to the rich Mexican culture and enjoy some hot cocoa and Tamalitos while you¡re at it!
Editorial by Valentina Álvarez
Photography by David Schrader and Yucatán Today for use in Yucatán Today.
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