Christmas in Cofradía de Suchitlán

Christmas! For many people it conjures up images of snowy landscapes, people bundled up against the cold, fires crackling away in fireplaces, and creches with the Holy Family surrounded in a manger by animals and the Three Wise Men, with an Angel and Star above.

Of course, in different parts of the world, and in different cultures, you will find variations of the common theme, and here in Mexico that is no different.

Halfway down the Pacific coast of Mexico, you will only find snow on the top of our inactive volcano when the temperature drops. Second, what would any holiday or celebration be here without firecrackers and fireworks. Beginning around the time of the celebrations of the Virgin of Guadalupe, there was a tent set up to satisfy everyone’s needs for pyrotechnics.

Vendor of firecrackers – Cohetitos is pronounced “coo-eh-toes””

And given how everyone, including children, take part in setting them off in the streets, I am surprised that I have not heard of anyone blowing off or burning their hands or faces.

As in the United States, we are beginning to see Christmas decorations way before we should be seeing them. I believe this year, we started seeing them the end of October, beginning with a great big decorated and lit Christmas tree at the entrance to Sears in the Zentralia mall in Colima.

Closer to Christmas, after the celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe (December 12th), lights and decorations started to go up on the houses and our town square,

poinsettias in the jardín – the town square

And I did my part with a wreath on my door and outside my gate, a tiny bonsai-sized Christmas tree, decorations on my porch and fruit trees and lights hung from my car port.

One difference from Christmas in the U.S. is that, since December 25th is Jesus’ birthday, in the depictions of the Holy Family, Baby Jesus is kept covered until after midnight on December 24th.

In our little village of about 1500 people, we have two Catholic Churches and one 7th Day Adventist church. Both Catholic churches were being readied for Christmas mass, the evening of December 24th, also known as Noche Buena.

I was told by my friend Lourdes that Mass would be at 6pm, but I found both churches empty when I arrived at that time.

I asked two different people in the street and one woman told me that Mass would start at 7pm and another told me 8pm. I called Lourdes, who informed me that the priest would be late because he was performing a wedding.

I consoled myself with the fact that the church bells always ring a half hour before the Mass begins, so I went to a neighbor’s house and then my own house to wait. And at 7:30pm, the church bells started to ring.

Now the problem was – in which church was the Mass? So I began by going to the church closest to my house and that happened to be the correct one. (It wouldn’t really matter much if I’d picked the wrong one first as the two churches are one block from each other on parallel streets).

And so I entered the church with my neighbor and before very long it was packed with the citizens of Cofradía.

Once we were seated, there was a procession of a girl dressed as an angel and Pastores coming in dressed in various costumes and carrying banners. After the Mass, two of the Pastores were holding dolls depicting Baby Jesus and the parishoners went forward, kissed one of them and then exited the church.

After Mass, I celebrated at Lourdes’ house with her family. We had a nice meal of stuffed turkey, salad, mashed white potatoes, lots of wine and my contribution – mashed camote (a Mexican version of the sweet potato) with butter and nutmeg. We exchanged gifts and I was home by midnight (the advantage of living only a few houses down the street).

Of course, there were also fireworks after Mass, continuing even now, the end of Christmas day.

Before going to bed, I did take the cover off Baby Jesus, as tradition dictates.

In the morning, I was fortunate to witness another tradition of the area with which I had not been familiar. I went to Lourdes’ house in the morning for coffee, and after a while, she said Los Pastores were coming. I went out to her porch and saw a parade of people coming down the street singing.

They turned the corner and then came back around, passing the house, but said they would come to Lourdes’ house after they had been to the others.

What happens is that people bring out their Baby Jesus dolls/statues and Los Pastores will sing in front of them about the joy of the birth of Jesus. And so Lourdes had her Baby Jesus brought out to the porch and we waited.

And then they came back and began their song:

As you can hear at the end of the video, the “priest” also says “Merry Christmas” and Lourdes’ husband Alfonso says “See you later.” No matter how good my Spanish becomes, I will never be mistaken for a Mexican. My face immediately gives it away. Some Mexicans will speak Spanish to me to see how well I speak, and some will either want to practice their English or be polite and immediately start speaking English, even at times when I WANT to speak Spanish.

Well, we have come to the end of my Christmas story. For all of you who celebrate Christmas, I wish you a very Merry and Blessed Christmas, and for those of you who have other religions and traditions, I wish you a Blessed Holiday Season.

Until next time…….

History of the Virgin of Guadalupe

     Mexico is a Catholic country and the Virgin of Guadalupe is the patron saint of Mexico. Her feast day, December 12th, is celebrated by Catholics in Mexico. In addition, each village in this area has their own separate week to celebrate. Here in Cofradía there is a week-long fiesta in our town square, with church bells, music and firecrackers starting at 5am, repeated every 6 hours,  and lasting until one am the next morning. On the night of the final day, a large castillo (tower) is constructed, loaded with row after row of fireworks, which is set off one layer at a time, starting at the base. Our week for celebration is usually some time in January. 

     On December 9, 1531 an indigenous native named Juan Diego was walking through the hill country of Tepayac. He had already converted to Christianity, and on this day, near Tepayac Hill, he encountered a beautiful woman surrounded by a ball of light as bright as the sun. This woman identified herself in his native Nahuatl language as Mary the mother of Jesus.

     Mary commanded him to go to Tenochtitlan, visit the bishop-elect Fray Juan de Zumarraga and say that they were to build a church on the spot where he had seen his vision. He went to the bishop’s palace, but was turned away by his servants, who told him to come back the next day if he really wanted to see the bishop. 

     When he returned to the spot where he had seen her, he told Mary to send someone else because apparently he wasn’t worthy. She insisted that she had chosen him, and so he returned the next day. During the meeting, the bishop said that he needed a sign in order to believe what he was being told.

     He returned to the hill, and was greeted by Mary. He told her what had transpired and of the bishop’s desire for a sign. She told him to return the following day and he would have his sign.

     Unfortunately, he was unable to return the next day, as his uncle had become deathly ill and needed his care. After 2 days, he went out to find a priest, and while passing Tepayac Hill, he encountered Mary again.

     She told him that he did not need a priest, as his uncle was now cured, but rather he should climb to the top of the hill to gather roses and bring them back to her. The weather was freezing cold, but he went to the top of the hill and found roses in full bloom. He gathered the flowers in his tilma – a cape/poncho made of cactus fiber – and brought them to Mary, where she arranged them and charged him with bringing them to the bishop.

     He brought them to the bishop, and when he opened his tilma…..

 there were not only roses, but his tilma now contained a picture of Mary just as he described her. The bishop then believed him, and the next day brought the tilma to the cathedral, then went with Juan Diego to the spot where he had had his vision.

     Afterwards he went back to his village and met his uncle, who was now completely well. His uncle told him that he had met a young woman surrounded by light who told him that she had sent his nephew to Tenochtitlan with a picture of herself. She said, “Call me and my image Santa Maria de Guadalupe.” It is thought by some that Guadalupe was a mis-translation from Nahuatl to Spanish of the work Coatlallope which means one who treads on snakes. 

Here is a photo of the church that was built on the spot where Juan Diego had his vision (in what is now Mexico City).

The plaque above one of the doors of the church reads, “Near this place at dawn on Saturday the 9th of December 1531, the mother of God spoke for the first time to Juan Diego. In the afternoon that same day and at dawn on Sunday the 10th of December, she spoke with him again. On the 12th of December in the morning he picked the roses of the miracle at this site.  1970 year of the Guadalupano meeting.”

These are the stairs leading to the top of the hill and the original church.

This is a sculpture garden signifying the indigenous people and a priest bowing down to a vision of the Virgin

This is a photo from the top of the hill, looking down on the old basilica on the left and the new basilica on the right. 

Here you can see all the pilgrims from around the world camping out on the plaza. You can see the clock tower on the right of the picture. Families come, pitch tents and sleep here at night. 

This is a stock photo of the old basilica

Here is the inside of the new basilica. You can see to the lower right of the large gold cross a rectangular frame.

Close-ups of the frame. It is said that within this frame is the actual cloak of Juan Diego. I was reading that the church had been subjected to floods, smoke from fires and even in 1921 a bomb which was  exploded by anti-clerical forces. It is said that an iron cross was twisted out of shape and the marble altar rail was damaged, but the tilma was completely unharmed. 

The new basilica at ground level.

Here are the older churches. When I visited the first time, I hadn’t realized there are two older buildings. You can see the reason why they are no longer in use and are unsafe to enter – the older one started to lean, much like the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Another view of the older churches from the plaza.

Several busloads of us from Cofradía did a pilgrimage there. This is some of us in a procession carrying a glass case with flowers and a statue inside. We also brought with us many bags of produce – fruits and vegetables from this area as offerings.

A closer view of the clock tower. You can see the plaza behind it and some of the pilgrims.

There are statues of the Virgin of Guadalupe throughout Mexico. This is the Virgin of Guadalupe on my property, cut out of black volcanic rock by a local artisan.  There are white roses around her, as it is said she likes white roses.  This was for her inauguration, and currently there is wandering Jew as ground cover. 

     And here ends my presentation. I hope you have enjoyed learning about the history of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Until next time, adios!

December 12, 2018 – the Feast Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe

Being a Catholic country, Mexico celebrates many saints during the year, but December 12th is a very special day – the celebration of the patron saint of Mexico, the Virgin of Guadalupe. In my next post, I will present my slide show all about this saint, but for now I will just say that on December 12, 1531 she performed a miracle for Juan Diego, an indigenous man who lived in Tepayac.

Today is a national holiday, with schools, banks and all manner of businesses closed. There are celebrations throughout the country.  In the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City, the priests and congregation sang La Mañanita to the Virgin. The Mañanita is also what is sung when a person has a birthday.

and here are the English lyrics to this song:

But, today I was not in Mexico City, and so I attended the celebration here in Cofradía de Suchitlán in Colima State. We headed out of the village to the parking lot of the El Jacal restaurant.  A parking lot is the best way I could describe it, but that really doesn’t do it justice. It is quite a large area with cement seats that remind me of a Roman amphitheater and across from those seats is an altar where Mass is performed.  The restaurant was not even visible from this point.

As we approached the seating, a band was playing La Mañanita to the Virgin.  Then we all took our seats and the Mass began. There was no kneeling, as there was no place to kneel, so we alternately stood up and sat down.

People filed down the stairs to receive Communion:


and when the Mass was over, the band played again:

I’m sure you hear the popping sound. No celebration would be complete in Mexico without fireworks or firecrackers!

When the band was finished for the moment, the Azteca dancers performed:

This clip is only 15 seconds long, as my battery was running low, but if you wish to see more, I have longer videos in previous posts.


While the Azteca dancers were performing on one end of the field, the band was playing on the other end. People were also selling food somewhere between the two. My friend Lourdes and I  stopped to admire the Virgin which was in the back of a pickup truck:

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and we, and other people stopped to admire the altar:


Here you can see the crowds that have gathered for the Mass and celebration:


And so here ends my story of our activities on this special day. Tomorrow will be my slide show to tell you all about the history of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Good night all, and see you again tomorrow!