Candelaria, Candelmas and the Origins of Groundhog Day

Recently, I have increased my knowledge of quite a few things, from way back in history up to the present time, which just goes to show that no one knows everything and there is value in questioning the origins of cultural practices, even if you’re pretty sure you know the answer – many times you will be surprised that you actually don’t know the answer at all.

I lived in New York for 66 years before moving to Mexico, where I have been living for the past 3 years. Having lived in New York, I was aware of Groundhog Day and what it means if the groundhog sees his shadow or doesn’t see it. Here in Mexico, I was introduced to the experience of Candelaria. Upon researching it, I now have a greater understanding of the origin of Groundhog Day, which has nothing to do with animals seeing their shadow. And so, I will start this post going way back to celebrations of February 2nd before animals were a part of it, and continue the thread right up to the present day Mexican celebration.

February 2nd marks the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. The ancient Celts celebrated this time with the pagan holiday of Imbolc, heralding new beginnings with the upcoming birth of new livestock and planting of new crops.

For Christians, February 2nd is 40 days after Christmas Day. The tradition is that women were considered unclean for 40 days after giving birth, and so Mary, Joseph and Jesus would have gone to the temple on that day for Jesus to be blessed and for Mary to be purified. This date is referred to as Candlemas by Christians.

A superstition that evolved from the pagan and Christian beliefs can be summed up in an old English poem:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,

Winter has another flight.

If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,

Winter will not come again.

There are variations of this poem in Scotland, Germany and, of course, the United States. Of course, if the day is “fair and bright” any animal will cast a shadow, foretelling winter having “another flight” and if there are “clouds and rain,” then there will be no shadow and “Winter will not come again.” In Germany, a badger was watched for a shadow and in Pennsylvania, USA, the groundhog is the animal of choice.

The Mexican version of Candlemas is Día de la Candelaria. Preparations actually begin on January 6th, Three Kings Day. On this day, people get together for parties and to eat the Rosca, a pastry which has a small figure of a baby cooked inside. Whoever get the piece of Rosca with the figure must then host a celebration on February 2nd and provide tamales for everyone.

The Rosca

What is the meaning of the Rosca of the Kings. January 6th. The dried fruits are the jewels in the crowns of the kings that signify peace, love and happiness. The form symbolizes the Love of  God that has no beginning and no end. The hidden boy remembers the moment in which Joseph and Mary hid the baby Jesus to save him from Herod. Eating the bread is related to communion       with Jesus. 
Lourdes cutting the Rosca

Guess who got the piece with the Baby Jesus

Close-up of the figure

Tamali comes from the Náhuatl word “tamalli” which means “wrapped.” Náhuatl is one of the indigenous languages of Mexico. Tamales are made with corn dough, either plain or with meat, fruit or other ingredients added, then wrapped in a corn husk and steamed. I have been told by my neighbors that tamales are eaten because they are the traditional food from the time of the Aztecs. Besides eating tamales, we drink atole, which is a hot drink made from corn.

During my investigation, I also read that according to the Aztec calendar, our February 2nd is also the date that the assistants to the rain god Tláloc were honored.

Tamales and atole

¡ Buen provecho !

If you would like to read more about Groundhog Day, Candlemas and Candelaria, here are some links to the articles I used to research their history:

Meanwhile, Buen Provecho and see you next time…..


The Death Café

If you are an ex-pat, especially if you are living in a country where English is not the official language, I strongly urge you to find and attend a Death Café meeting.

No, it is not a brand of coffee, nor does it have anything to do with Day of the Dead. Rather, it is a way to gather essential information in case you die or expect to be buried in a country that is not the country of your nationality.

It’s not about the coffee

Though I definitely love my caffeine

And it’s not about Day of the Dead, though I definitely love my skulls and Catrinas

I am going to talk about this in general, since requirements probably vary from country to country, along with some specifics about Mexico, since that is where I live.

The people speaking at this gathering were from a local funeral home. This was good, because they could give us information about what documents were necessary in case of death, who would be responsible for signing a death certificate and what arrangements would need to be made with the deceased’s body. This is important information which may vary from country to country; in Mexico, the body needs to either be buried or cremated within 24 hours of death.

Up until this point of the meeting, I thought I was covered – I paid for a plot in the local cemetery, I have both an American and a Mexican will, and I have designated beneficiaries in all documents that require beneficiaries.

As the meeting continued, I realized that I was woefully unprepared and need to do a lot more work and investigation before everything is actually in order.

First order of business to consider, in a country whose official language is not English, is to have important documents translated into the official language of the country. Birth certificate, marriage certificate, divorce decree, all must be translated into Spanish by a certified translator here in Mexico.

If you use a different name than the name on your birth certificate, you need to find out if that will cause problems in your adopted country. Here in Mexico, your birth name consists of: Your given first or first and middle name, your first last name (apellido) is your father’s last name and your second last name is your mother’s last name.

An example is: John Jones and Sarah Smith have a daughter. They name her Mary Katherine. Her full name will be Mary Katherine Jones Smith. That will be her name throughout her entire life, even if she marries. So all documentation from birth through death will have the same name for her.

In the United States, probably most women take their husband’s last name when they marry. Even after divorce, they have a choice to keep that name or change it back to their maiden name. And here, after death, it will cause major problems if your birth certificate name does not match the name you have been using, since the primary document they use will be your birth certificate.

I am currently trying to discover a way to reconcile these facts so there will be no problems after I am gone. I can update my blog with new information as I discover it, but currently I believe that a justice of the peace can legally resolve the issue.

There are two types of legal counselors with which I am familiar here: notarios and justices of the peace. Notarios are not the same as U.S. notaries. Notarios are lawyers and can draw up documents, such as wills, but their documents, such as name changes, might not be accepted by all officials.

Justices of the peace can also draw up documents, such as name changes, and their documents are accepted by officials. They may also charge less for their services, which is an added benefit. Also to be considered, what documentation do your family members need to prove they are your family.

I am continuing to investigate the particulars about Mexico and the U.S., and, as I stated before, rules and regulations may vary according to country, so this post is less about specific details and more about giving a nudge to those who are ex-pats or snowbirds to investigate what you would need to know if you should give your last breath while outside of the country in which you wish to be buried.

Better to be prepared than to leave your loved ones to deal with a bureaucratic nightmare involving two countries while in the midst of their grief.

Until next time – ¡Adiós!