(Note: the following is excerpted from my book, Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions and Recipes, co-authored with Adriana Almazan Lahl)
La Virgencita, Protector of All Mexicans
All over Mexico, in every pueblo or neighborhood (vecindario) her smiling face appears to look tenderly over her people. Most Mexican-American homes display her painting or statue or both. And the myriads of Mexican barrios in any number of U.S. cities typically have murals with her image. Far more than a religious figure, the Virgin of Guadalupe is the cement that binds all Mexico. Devotion to Guadalupe is a source of profound pride in being Mexican, and has become a symbol of nationalism and patriotism.
In a country with the second-largest Catholic population in the world (Brazil is first), most Mexicans consider themselves Guadalupanos first and Catholics second. Nobel prize recipient Octavio Paz, is widely quoted as saying,
“When Mexicans no longer believe in anything, they will still hold fast to their belief in two things: the National Lottery and the Virgin of Guadalupe. In this I think they will do well. For both have been known to work, even for those of us who believe in nothing.”
It was in her name that “El Grito,” the call to arms that began Mexico’s War of Independence on September 16, 1810, went out. Her image graced the banners of Padre Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla’s insurgents as they fought the war for liberty from Spain, during which they were required to wear the emblem of Guadalupe. Thus identified by their devotion, soldiers belonging to the insurgent rebel force were summarily executed. Royalists desecrated her image by wearing it on the soles of their shoes. Later, during Mexico’s revolution, followers of revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata, Zapatistas, wore her likeness in the band of their famous wide-brimmed hats. Nearly every major Mexican city has a basilica bearing her name.
Dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe is one of the more important, celebrated in every corner of Mexico from the biggest cities to the smallest ranchos. Throughout Mexico on December 12th, small Mexican boys are dressed in peasant clothes and are called Juan Diegos, mustaches painted on their faces; in honor of Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, an Aztec who had recently converted to Christianity, to whom the Virgin de Guadalupe first appeared on December 9,1531, on the hill north of Mexico City. On their tilmas, the image of Guadalupe appears as she did on the cloth of Juan Diego, centuries ago. The girls are called las Malinches and wear traditional costume: an embroidered blouse and a gathered flowered skirt, with a brightly colored rebozo draped over…
It is traditional to share tamales and atole on Dec. 12th in Mexico. Below is a menu honoring this tradition.
Menu for Dia de La Virgen de Guadalupe
Small Plates / Antojitos
Tamales of Chicken or Pork in Green Sauce / Pollo o Puerco en Salsa Verde
Tamal de Rajas (tamales of strips of Poblano Chile, Butternut Squash with Cheese)
Dessert / Postre
Strawberry-Pineapple Tamales / Tamales de Piña y Fresa
Beverage / Bebida
Chocolate Atole (Champurrado)
A traditional beverage served on Dia de La Virgencita is atole, a corn-based drink that has been part of the lexicon of Mexican food since Aztec times.As early as 1651, the process by which atole was made was noted by botanist Francisco Hernandez in a report on the use of plants in Nueva España. :
Atolli was eight parts water and six parts maize, plus lime, cooked until soft. The maize was then ground and cooked again until it thickened
Mexican Hot Chocolate (Link for recipe)