By Alma Ruiz
The observance of the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe has become a phenomenon of the Western World, transcending its simple roots in Mexico to touch many cultures and nations.
Although the apparitions of the Virgin of Guadalupe were in 1531, the impact it had on the Mexican people was powerful. At the time of the apparition, only ten years had passed since the conquest of indigenous Mexico by the Spaniards, and the indigenous people of the Americas were devastated. The appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe was important for the indigenous people because they could relate to her language, her color and the symbols of the image left on Juan Diego’s tilma: the sun, the stars, the way she placed her hands in a gesture of offering, and the ribbon around her waist indicating that she was expecting a child.
The devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe was so important to the Mexican people that Pope Pius XXII crowned her as the “Empress of the Americas” in 1945, increasing fervor towards her throughout Latin America and the United States. In 1999, St. Pope John Paul II declared her the “Patroness of the Americas.” Locally, Our Lady of Guadalupe is one of the patrons of the Diocese of San Bernardino, along with St. Bernardine of Siena.
The people devoted to Our Lady of Guadalupe express their faith and their hope by celebrating several days leading up to the Feast Day. Many of these expressions of faith have been passed on from generation to generation, some of which return to indigenous ancestors. Here, we share some ways that the people celebrate the “Brown Virgen.”
The Novena to Our Lady of Guadalupe: The novena to Our Lady of Guadalupe begins on December 2 or 3 and is prayed for nine consecutive days. The novena is a devotion where the Rosary is prayed for the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe. During the nine days we meditate on the virtues and apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Serenade to Our Lady of Guadalupe: The serenade to Our Lady of Guadalupe begins on the eve of the Feast of Our Lady. Many times the people, either with choirs or live music, sing to the Virgin at the door of the church or at her altar on the night of December 11.
The Mañanitas: Starting at midnight, many churches are filled with parishioners eagerly waiting to be the first to congratulate Our Lady of Guadalupe. The song of “Las Mañanitas” opens the repertoire, followed by other famous songs addressed to the Virgin of Guadalupe like “Good Morning White Dove,” “La Guadalupana” and “Mi Virgen Ranchera.”
Jimena Guadalupe Mondragon of St. Christopher Parish in Moreno Valley participates every year in the mañanitas and now brings her young son, not only to celebrate the “Brown Virgin,” but also to celebrate her own birthday. She shared, “My birthday is on December 12, too.”
Procession: Parishioners parade and travel from one place to another paying homage to the “Brown Virgin” with a display of allegorical cars with living re-enactments of the appearances of Our Lady of Guadalupe to San Juan Diego, matachines (Aztec/indigenous dancers), folk dances, Rosary recitation, and banners that shower with blessings those who ask for her intercession in difficult times.
For Catholics, the procession also fulfills a social meaning: to manifest publicly belonging to the Church and, in this case, the love and devotion to the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe.
Dancers: A traditional element in the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe are the indigenous dancers. In Mexico, there was a mixture of cultures and the fact of dancing to the divinity is part of the ancestral traditions of the different cultures that existed in ancient Mexico. The dances have a very special meaning since they are an offering, a manifestation of total devotion and faith in God and the Virgin.
The Menu of December 12th: Food is very important in the celebrations of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The Guadalupanos are very generous in providing food to those who participate in the different celebrations of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Many times after the novena, the procession or the mañanitas, some of the following foods are shared with the community: sweet bread and coffee, tea, champurrado or hot fruit punch. Menudo, pozole and tamales are also very popular. The social gathering after the religious participation is very significant in this Fiesta. The Guadalupanos extend this hospitality especially to those looking to be nourished after a long walk or a very early celebration.
At 5 a.m. Lizette Colmenares helped her parents, Cesar and Lizette Colmenares, to prepare the food that would be shared with the parishioners of St. Christopher. Lizette shared that two years ago her parents started taking her to the Fiesta Guadalupana and added, “I like it, and now I want to come every year to help my parents in the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe.”
The Liturgy: As with all things Catholic, the Feast Day is punctuated with a liturgy. In this case, the Solemn Mass serves as the finale of this very special celebration.