07 February 2009

Las Fiestas de la Candelaria y Feria de la Olla

On Sunday, February 1st, my wife Gina and I paid a visit to Pueblo Nuevo near where the Río Guanajuato joins the Río Lerma. The day before we had visited Valtierrilla, near where the Río Laja joins the Río Lerma. The Río Lerma and its extension, the The Río Grande de Santiago, is the longest river system completely within the borders of Mexico and for that reason it is one of the most important. Many early settlements were established along this river system and although it really isn't considered navigable it is a very important source of water that over the years has been sorely neglected. Valtierrilla and Pueblo Nuevo are legacies of those early settlements.

I wrote about Pueblo Nuevo in September of 2008 in a post entitled “Birria de Cabrito” when we went there for the Mexican Independence celebrations. This time we visited Pueblo Nuevo for the “Fiestas de la Candelaria y Feria de la Olla”. In Mexico February 2nd is “El Día de la Candelaria”, which in English is “Candlemas Day” or in the modern liturgy of the Church, "The Presentation in the Temple". In the liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church it used to be called the "Purification of the Virgin" which commemorated the visit to the temple by the Blessed Virgin forty days after giving birth in order to undergo a "purification" rite which was required of women after giving birth under Jewish law. The same type of custom endured in the Catholic Church for almost two thousand years and was called the “Churching of Women” although the custom has now fallen out of favor, especially since Vatican II. In the United States February 2nd is more commonly known as “Groundhog Day”.

“Candelaria” in Mexico, also signals end to the Christmas Season when the manger scene is put away and all the Christmas things are formally put aside for another year. Typically there is special mass to remove the Baby Jesus from the manger and to dress him and put him away until next year. This is called “El Levantamiento” or “The Lifting Up”. Before the mass gets started the people bring candles up to the front of the church for the priest to bless and then they light the candles from a special candle on the altar and go back to their pews and recite some prayers together while the candles are still lit. During the proceedings the Baby Jesus is removed from the manger and dressed in fine clothes and is set on a throne for the duration of the mass.

The ceremony of putting away the Baby Jesus is repeated in many homes. The people kneel down by the manger and are led by the host or hostess in saying the Rosary. While they are saying the Rosary someone takes the Baby Jesus out of the manger and anoints Him with perfume and dresses Him in fancy clothes and then set him on a little chair that is often covered with aluminum foil or other decorations to look like a throne. After the Rosary, everyone is given candles which are lighted and then the hosts lead everyone in the recitation of a litany to the Blessed Virgin. After the litany someone holds the Baby Jesus for everyone to kiss and as each person kisses the infant they are given a piece of candy from a little basket. After that a sweet little song is sung and the candles are blown out.

It so happens that the “Santa Patrona” (Patron Saint) of Pueblo Nuevo is La Virgen de la Candelaria and the last few days of January and the first two days of February are dedicated to celebrations honoring her. My friend Alfredo posted a very nice description of this entitled “La Fiesta de Mi Pueblo” in his blog “Bitácora de Alfredo” (Alfredo's Logbook). The second part of the fiestas, “La Feria dela Olla” takes place on February 3rd. An “olla” is a pot, usually made of clay called “barro” and lightly fired. This “feria” (fair) is like a giant open market clearing house for pots and other types of ceramics and the origins go way back in antiquity. No one seems to remember when it got started. People come from all over to buy and sell pots and pans and kitchen utensils and all sorts of things. Young men and women buy miniature pots and have their sweetie's name inscribed on them and then they give them to each other. There is music and dancing and “castillos de fuego” (firecracker towers) all throughout the Fiestas de Candelaria y Feria de la Olla.

While we enjoyed the celebrations in Pueblo Nuevo we were entertained by a wonderful band called “Banda Laguna Azul” from the Parroquia del Señor de la Misericordia in the nearby village of Tomelopitos. We also delighted in watching the antics of the “mojigangas” which are very tall manikin type figures that are carried on the shoulders of men who are hidden in the lower clothing of the mojigangas. The results looks like giants walking and dancing around. The people love them. There was also just about any type of food that you might want to eat and we took advantage of the opportunity to eat some carnitas. Some people were constructing a “castillo de fuego” which is a wooden tower to which all types of fireworks are tethered. It is usually set ablaze at about 11:pm and provides quite a show. It also looked like they were preparing two large stage platforms, one at each end of the town plaza for a late night battle of the bands.

We left a little after six when the shadows started falling. The night time is best left to the young people at these celebrations and we could already see all the grey heads starting to head home. If I was still seventeen years old on the outside like I still am on the inside I would have stayed but alas, prudence and the urgings of my wife Gina prevailed. All in all it was a very pleasant day, however, and I highly recommend that you put Pueblo Nuevo on your list of places to visit.

6 comments:

Steve Cotton said...

Bob -- Great commentary. I always learn a lot from each of your posts. I did a sermon entitled "Getting Christ Out of Christmas." Oddly, there were echoes of it in the ceremony you described.

Babs said...

Thanks for a great blog - I've added it to my "wish list" of places to get to and I'm so glad you're "still 17 on the inside" - hence your verve and curiosity!

Alfredo said...

Bob:
Cuanto me alegra que su visita al pueblo haya sido placentera. Do you have a pot with my name on it? just kidding. Great post on the celebrations of la fiesta de mi pueblo.

Nick said...

I was raised catholic and learned about this festival in school. After reading your post, I want to go there myself.

Also for some reason I found this:

'In the United States February 2nd is more commonly known as “Groundhog Day”.'

to be hysterical and laughed loud enough for my boss to inquire as to what I was doing! :)

extranguera said...

Saludos desde Indiana! Ya llevo mucho tiempo leyendo su blog sin dejar ningun comentario... pero al ver el topico de hoy, decide comentar! I spent all of last year living on a small rancho right outside of Pueblo Nuevo- La Tinaja de Bernales... I know all about those all too important rivers; my boyfriend harvested tomatoes along those very canals. I remember "Las Ollas" as the locals called it, and all the fiestas during La Candelaria. Irapuato was a weekly visit for us too! I miss it all so much. Gracias por compartir las fotos y historias tan bonitas!

Bob Mrotek said...

extranguera,
It's a small world indeed. Thank you for the nice comment. I hope you get chance to come back and visit Pueblo Nuevo some time. It really does represent life in Mexico at its best. There are lots of towns like it scattered all over the country but unfortunately most visitors to Mexico never escape from the touristy places. I'll bet you had an experience that you'll never forget. ¡Saludos!

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.