The Day of “La Candelaria” is a ritual feast of Catholic origin, whose objective is to celebrate three things: the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple; the Purification of the Virgin after childbirth, and the adoration of the Virgin Candelaria herself. “Candela” is another name for “Vela” or candle, and so this Virgin Mary is the reminder of the sacred light that guides us down the right path to redemption.
There are those who affirm that this celebration coincides with a preHispanic one, whereby the native indigenous people performed sacred rituals to bless their corn, to plant the seeds, and sow them, thus completing the agricultural cycle.
According to the Aztec calendar, this ritual or process was carried out on the first day of the year and was offered in honor of the deities Tláloc, Chalchiuhtlicue and Quetzalcóatl. This date coincided with the day Jesus was brought to the Temple in Jerusalem, thus beginning a tradition that united sacred corn with the Catholic faith.
However, in terms of our gastronomic heritage, this traditional feast day has a significant relevance with the 6th of January and the partaking of the ritual “Rosca de Reyes” or King’s Bread Crown or Loaf.
We should keep in mind that January 6th is the Day of the Three Wise Men or Kings, where children get gifts from them, and the family gathers to enjoy the delicious pastry that hides small figurines inside, which allude to the Baby Jesus.
It turns out that in Mexico, whenever someone is “lucky” enough to find the figurine hidden inside his slice of the Rosca, this means he/she is the fortunate winner of a special prize, which is mainly that they have been chosen to be the host or hostess who will provide the entire family with tamales on the 2nd of February, which is, of course, the Day of “La Candelaria”.
The tamal is an iconic, well-known dish of preHispanic origin, made from cornmeal, with many varieties of fillings inside, such as chicken or beef strips, salsas, chiles, fruits or vegetables, wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves (depending on the region) and steam cooked.
It may sound a bit strange that the winner of the Baby Jesus figurine receives it as a “prize”, but this tradition is as surrealistic as Mexico itself!
On this day, you can enjoy tamales of any and all the flavors you can imagine: chicken in green salsa, pork in red salsa, with mole or chile strips; and then you also have the sweet ones, made with pink-colored cornmeal or masa, and filled with raisins, pine nuts, raspberries or strawberries.
Tamales are usually enjoyed with a steaming cup of frothy hot chocolate or with a corn atole drink, although there may be those who prefer to celebrate with a fine tequila or another strong alcoholic beverage.