Growing up, December 12 th in my household was a very important day. I would say that next Christmas, we probably anticipated the arrival of this day the most and in quite a big way.
December 12 th marks the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, and as a Mexicana from a Catholic family this was a very big deal to me and to those around me. On this day Our Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated in a very special way, especially in Mexico, but increasingly in the United States too.
If you grew up in Mexico or in a Hispanic Catholic family, chances are that you are very familiar with the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe. In 1531, the mother of Christ appeared to an Indian convert named Juan Diego with a very special message to the Bishop of Mexico City, leaving her portrait on Juan Diego’s mantle (or tilma, in Spanish) as proof of her message to the Bishop. This image (pictured to the left) has become an important icon and is kept at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, the most visited shrine in the world.
I most recently visited this shrine soon after college with my parents and found it to be such a moving and reflective place. Our Lady of Guadalupe was declared Patroness of Latin America in 1910 and in 1945 Pope Pius XII declared Her to be the Empress of all the Americas. You can learn more about this story here.
While December 12th is the main feast day dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, preparations begin 9 days pior with a novena, a special prayer devotion repeated on nine successive days. Each evening, believers gather at a church to pray the rosary and ask for her intercession with their prayers. I have heard and read that in Mexico City as December 12th approaches, more and more pilgrims arrive at the Basilica each day, attending the novenas in her honor and many camping out in and around the Basilica! I hope that one day I can be there at the Basilica to celebrate, it’s on my bucket list for sure!
Then, on December 12th the main festivities are celebrated with las Mañanitas (the “Mexican Birthday Song”), typically at midnight or early in the morning and Mass. Mañanitas are Mexican songs that area traditionally sung to people early in the morning most often on their birthday, but they are also sung on other special occasions, like an anniversary or a seranade. They are traditionally sung to Our Lady of Guadalupe on her feast day, usually accompanied by a mariachi.
Our home parish will celebrate las mañanitas for Our Lady with a Mariachi at 5 a.m., followed by hot cocoa and pan dulce! As a matter of fact, as I write this my parents are in Mexico, attending a sunrise Mañanitas celebration in her honor. Mass is celebrated in the evening, followed by more delicious treats and a piñata for the kids. I remember getting up so early, around 4:30 in the morning, on December 12th as a child. I would bundle up in my warmest clothes and head to the super early 5 a.m. Mañanita celebration with one of my parents. In the evening, our entire family would attend Mass, we would have to get there early because it was jam packed. Kids would be dressed in traditional Mexican clothing, sometimes adults too! People were excited, happy to be celebrating such a wonderful day.
In addition to the song and prayers in her honor, roses are traditionally handed out to the faithful. Why? The rose is Our Lady’s flower, having asked Juan Diego to bring roses to the Bishop wrapped in his mantle to help prove her message and will to him. When asked by the Bishop to shop him what he carried in his mantle, Juan Diego opened his mantel, the roses falling to the ground, and Our Lady’s image on his mantle.
I lived in Mexico until I was 5 and celebrated this beautiful tradition every year. That’s me in the picture on the left, dressed in traditional Mexican clothes on December 12th when I was 3 years old, as part of the procession. I appreciated that the tradition stayed with my family when we moved to Chicago and that it grew quite a bit in our church during my childhood. Now I have 4 kids and want to pass on celebrating this tradition to them.
I plan on taking my two oldest to Spanish Mass tonight and enjoying the fiesta to follow, it will be beautiful. How can you celebrate? By far the best way is to attend a Mass or Mañanita celebration on December 12th. Check local Catholic churches to see if they are hosting any special events on this day. In the past I have hosted an Our Lady of Guadalupe party for my kids and our friends, everyone loved it! Check out the pictures from the party.