Catholics throughout Mexico and in many churches in the United States will be coming to church this Saturday with extra company: a statue of el Niño Dios, the Child Jesus.
The feast of the Presentation of the Lord, or Candlemas, is celebrated on Feb. 2, 40 days after Christmas. Mexican Catholics commemorate the day Mary and Joseph presented the Lord in the temple by bringing statues of the Child Jesus. In some regions, they dress the statue in different attire, often in a knitted garment.
Patty Romero Hamrick, a Spanish-language teacher at St. Timothy Catholic School in Mesa, Ariz., said that in Oaxaca, where she is from, el Día de la Candelaria is also remembered as the Purification of the Virgin Mary. In addition to el Niño Dios, Catholics also process with statutes of the Blessed Mother, pray the rosary and attend Mass.
“Whoever you ask, there will be the rosary, of course, but there will also be tamales.”
These traditions take place in parishes across the United States as well, Ms. Hamrick said, most often in churches with large Hispanic congregations.
“And there will be tamales,” Ms. Hamrick said. “Whoever you ask, there will be the rosary, of course, but there will also be tamales. Hispanics, we have to give it that touch, with food and drink, like champurrado [a hot chocolate drink] or tamales, whenever we get together.”
Ernesto Vega, a coordinator for adult faith formation for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, said the Candlemas is intimately connected to the Epiphany, the Three Kings celebration. In Michuacan, where he grew up, children would receive gifts from the Three Kings on Jan. 6, not from Santa Claus on Dec. 25.
“It’s another way of building community. We share food, get to know each other. There’s a generosity in cooking for others.”
In the evening, they would eat the Rosca de Reyes, or Kings Cake. A little figure of the Baby Jesus is baked into the cake, Mr. Vega said, hidden to recall how the Holy Family had to flee King Herod. The person who finds the baby Jesus in his or her slice is responsible for making the tamales on Feb. 2. In larger communities, cakes have more than one Baby Jesus figure in the cake so there will be more help for the Feb. 2 celebration.
“On Feb. 2, we take the Holy Family in procession and then we dance around the Baby Jesus,” Mr. Vega said. “The true candle is Jesus; the true light is Jesus. And we celebrate the mystery of Mary as the carrier of the light.”
For Mexican Catholics, Feb. 2 closes out the Christmas season in a way, Mr. Vega explained. On Dec. 12, they celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe. Posadas, which commemorate the Holy Family’s search for lodging, are celebrated leading up to Christmas. And then come Three Kings and Candlemas.
“It’s another way of building community,” Mr. Vega said. “We share food, get to know each other. There’s a generosity in cooking for others. When there’s a big celebration, the preparations are shared by different people. Everyone comes to share.”
Immigrants from Latin America are bringing that spirit of celebration, sharing and community to the United States, he said.
“We need to get to know each other and not be strangers,” Mr. Vega said. “This is a way to build community, especially in large cities like Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.”