By Antonio Ramblés AKA Tony Passarello
Gone full circle
The Jalisco villages of Cajititlan and San Juan Evangelista face each other across a couple of kilometers of lake, but on the day of my visit they’re also separated by 300 years of Mexican history.
I can’t take credit for planning this trip to Cajititlan on the Día de la Candelaria (Candlemas) but – as these photos show – the timing couldn’t have been more fortuitous.
Candlemas observes the Biblical presentation of the infant Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem 40 days after his birth, but here it’s also the last observance of the Christmas holiday season. Figures of the baby Jesus first displayed in Nativity scenes on Christmas Eve are given presents from the Magi on el Día de los Reyes (King’s Day, January 6), and on the Día de la Candelaria (February 2) are dressed in fine clothes and presented at the church for blessing. Family and friends also traditionally gather on this day to eat tamales.
In Mexico, this holiday is a follow-on to Kings’ Day, when children receive gifts and families and friends break share generous loaves of Rosca de Reyes, a special sweet bread with a figurine hidden inside. Whoever finds the figurines in their portion must host a party on the Día de la Candelaria.
We arrive in Cajititlan to find streets jammed with cars that surround blocks of the city center cordoned off for a great street festival.
On the approach to the central plaza and the local parish church, the sound of drumbeats grows ever louder. The narrow street opens suddenly onto the plaza, where at least 40 dancers in full Aztec ceremonial garb move about in intricately choreographed lines.
The costumes are elaborate and the pageantry is stunning. The dancers are men and women of all ages, and even a few children participate.
As I draw closer I can hear faint strains of a violin, and in a moment see a fiddler walking among the dancers, an impresario guiding the procession toward the church.
The church is packed as the procession makes its way up the central aisle toward the altar, the drums continuing their steady beat.
It’s startling to see this spectacle of pagan-rooted pageantry occupy a place of Christian worship. As the ceremony ends and the procession backs slowly down the aisle and back into the sun-washed plaza, though, its leader makes the sign of the cross and kisses his fingers.
As I study the dancers more closely I can see crosses hanging around the necks of many.
Nearly 500 years after the Conquest, and 400 years after native artisans surreptitiously integrated icons of their native religion into the design of the church in nearby San Juan Evangelista, native tradition has re-emerged as such an integral part of mainstream Catholic ceremony in Mexico that it’s no longer possible to imagine one without the other.
Things have, indeed come full circle.