The magic of the holiday season in Mexico begins the eve of December 12 with candlelight processions all over the nation in honor of the Virgin of Guadalupe, patron saint of Mexico.
In Barra de Potosi, a tiny fishing village on Mexico’s Pacific coast, the entire population turns out to honor La Guadalupana. They do the same 20 minutes north in the larger fishing-village-turned-coastal resort of Zihuatanejo, and in every village, town and city throughout the nation.
In Mexico City, some five million devotees make the annual pilgrimage – at least once in their lifetime — to the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. It was here on the Hill of Tepeyec that the dark-skinned Madonna first appeared to a local Aztec named Juan Diego.
The full story is a beautiful one, well worth reading by anyone interested in Mexican culture. For while the story is a religious one, based on a miracle and abrim with abiding faith, La Guadalupana has become a symbol that combines religious passion with national pride. She is considered the first Mestiza, Empress of the Americas, and represents, according to many historians, both the Virgin Mary and the indigenous Mexican goddess Tonantzin. Her image has graced banners borne in battle by revolutionaries from Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla to Jose Maria Morelos to Emiliano Zapata.
Visitors spending their holidays in La Barra, on its small grid of unpaved streets or along its lovely stretch of white sand beach, are fully welcomed into the celebration. For north-of-the-border visitors, it’s a magical time lapse, as we wind down into a reality startlingly different from the one most of us left behind.
The fiesta begins in la capilla, a small chapel whose white tiled floor is swept spotlessly clean. Celebrants, even young children, shake off the dirt from their feet before entering the gleaming site. Dressed in festive garb, traditional to the coastal region of the state of Guerrero, children start the celebration with song and dance. Village women in two lines sing, sway, and one-by-one approach the altar of the Virgin, communicating to her in dramatic exhortation, followed by clapping and chanting by the group. The fervor is palpable, eyes are aglow. Traditional violin and guitar offer a haunting accompaniment.
From the chapel, the procession follows the altar of the Virgin through the streets, stopping to sing at every homemade shrine in town. Decorations range from simple to elaborate, with lights, flowers and other individual touches.
The celebration culminates in a community feast, in which foods like pozole, a pork and hominy stew, atole, a corn-based drink, and many more dishes are freely offered to all.
The holiday is a prelude to Las Posadas, which takes place during the 9 days leading up to Christmas. Both offer a chance for vacationers to become part of a generous spirit of community celebration, where people with few material advantages have much to give. Participation in these festivities offers an unexpectedly rich bonus to a December Mexican beach getaway.
Learn all about Barra de Potosi and Playa Blanca at the excellent website Last Best Beach.
More on Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa at the official Visit Mexico website.