Día de la Candelaria: Why do Mexicans eat Tamales on February 2?

Those who found the baby Jesus doll in their piece of Rosca de Reyes on Three Kings Day (Día de Reyes)are by tradition obligated to bring tamales to the Día de la Candelaria on February 2, normally a gathering of the same family and friends from Three Kings Day.

What is celebrated on February 2?

Día de la Candelaria is connected to the Three Kings Day (January 6) thread as it represents the Epiphany: the moment of the meeting of the “sacred family” with the Three Kings, when Joseph and Mary fled with Jesus from the persecution of King Herod, for this reason, the bread has ‘little figures’ that symbolize the hidden child.

The February festivity is the end of the Christmas cycle, Catholics celebrate the Virgin of Candelaria and also raise the figure of the baby Jesus from the nativity, dress him in various clothes and take him to churches to bless him, since in biblical times, the firstborn had to be presented in the temple 40 days after the birth. It is believed that Jesus was taken on February 2.

In an INAH article, Dr. Carmen Anzures y Bolaños explains that in New Spain, during the evangelization process, the Franciscans introduced nativity scenes to represent the baby Jesus. That figure was lulled to sleep on the night of December 24 and taken to church 40 days later by those same people, “it is a godfather .”

According to the specialist, this tradition could have been “set up by the Catholic Church” on the same dates that the Mesoamerican peoples had other ceremonies, at the beginning of February, when the last 20 days of their calendar took place.

Fray Bernardino de Sahagún relates, for example, that the Mesoamerican peoples made sacrifices to the tlaloques (Tláloc’s helpers), to ask them for rain for the crops. In these ceremonies children dressed in finery were offered.

“The evangelizers most likely took advantage of this,” says Carmen Anzures, in order to relate it and connect it with the Christian cult of taking the baby Jesus to the temples, “with the change of generations, the memory of those pre-Hispanic ceremonies began to fade.”

In an article, the Federal Consumer Attorney’s Office explains that Mexico is the only country that dresses the child God in new clothes.

According to research from the National Institute of Anthropology (INAH), “this tradition has its origin in the Middle Ages when it became an element that accompanied the nuns.” And what do tamales have to do with this?

Why are tamales eaten on Candlemas Day?

Tamales are a preparation of pre-Hispanic origin, although they have added European ingredients such as butter. They were especially consumed in festivities such as the agricultural cycle, Carmen Anzures describes that for the request for rain, some were made with semi-bitter herbs that they ate as penance or for fasting.

Already with that ceremonial and festive character, tamales were easily adapted to Catholic holidays such as Día de la Candelaria.

In Mexico, those who found the “child” inside the Rosca de Reyes become “godparents” of the child Jesus, for which they acquire the commitment to dress him, take him to bless the church, and also invite lunch to people with those who broke bread on January 6. Not only tamales but the food extends to the afternoon meal with mole, barbecue, and more.

The Encyclopedic Dictionary of Mexican Gastronomy details that February 2 is celebrated in different ways in each part of the country, with different foods to share or give away: in Acahuato, Michoacán, it is customary to consume achicaladitos (dried bananas cooked in piloncillo honey), while in Mexico City they offer tamales and milk chocolate.

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