Baby Jesus And Tamales

How Mexicans celebrate the upcoming holiday of Candlemas

If, on January 6th (Three Kings Day), you lucked into being served the plastic baby Jesus that was hidden inside every King’s Cake, then listen up, here’s what you need to do. Tradition is that if you got the plastic baby, then you must host a party where only tamales are served.

And no, you don’t get to choose the date of your party, that’s already set. It’s February 2nd, which is Candlemas. Regardless of your Ground Hog day plans, this is the way Candlemas goes down:

babyjesus.JPGThis holiday commemorates the presentation of Jesus to the temple. On this day, people bring their images or figures of the Christ child to church to be blessed. These figures are elaborately dressed, traditionally in christening gowns. Afterwards, tamales and atole (a traditional Mexican drink) are shared, both of which are purchased or made by whoever found the miniature Jesus in the cake on January 6.

Candlemas (or “Día de la Candelaria” in Spanish) celebrates three occasions, according to Christian belief: the presentation of the Christ child; Jesus’ first entry into the temple; and the Virgin Mary’s purification (this is mainly celebrated in Catholic churches).

Candlemas primarily focuses on Jesus’ early life. Many Christians believe that Jesus’ mother Mary presented him to God at the temple in Jerusalem after observing the traditional 40 day period of purification following his birth (the purification was for her, not Jesus). According to the New Testament, a Jewish man named Simeon held the baby in his arms and said that he would be a light for the Gentiles (Luke 2:32). It is for this reason that this event is called Candlemas. (Candle, light, get it?)

And, considering that many Christians consider Jesus the “light of the world,” it is fitting that candles are also blessed on this day, and that a candlelit procession precedes the mass.

According to some sources, Christians began Candlemas in Jerusalem as early as the fourth century, and the lighting of candles began in the fifth century. Other sources say that Candlemas has been observed by blessing candles since the 11th century. An early writing dating back to around 380 AD mentioned that a feast of the presentation occurred in a church in Jerusalem and was observed on February 14th. In regions where Christ's birth was celebrated on December 25th, the feast was observed on February 2nd.

Obviously, tamales weren’t a part of these ancient feasts, but we’re sure glad they’re a part of our modern day Candlemas celebrations. And, in case you’re panicking because you don’t know how to make tamales, you will find a tamale recipe and instructions in this issue’s Cooking Like A Mexican column. I don’t know what page, look for it!

And don’t go sneaking off to celebrate Ground Hog day, this Candlemas is serious business.