One of the Mexican culture’s most celebrated historical figures is without a doubt the Virgin Mary. She is the patron saint of Mexico seen everywhere, statues, paintings, sculptures and posters adorn churches, houses, convenience stores and restaurants. Decals of the religious icon ride in the back windows of taxis and on the front of T-shirts for sale in the local mercados. This sacred lady is also referred to as Señora Guadalupe, a woman for whom many carry a torch for every holiday season.
December 12, also known as Día de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, is her day. For some Mexicans, this is the most important day on the calendar, even more so than Christmas or Easter. If you are visiting the Riviera Maya or Yucatan between December 9 and December 12, you will see runners from all over the states of Quintana Roo and Yucatan running a pilgrimage relay to Tulum, Merida or even as far away as Mexico City. The runners are carrying lit torches (like in the Olympics) and are followed by brightly decorated trucks. So why do they do it?
The Virgin of Guadalupe runners carry the torch for miles out of a devotion to the mother of Christ, but also because they have made a personal promise. Seeing the relay race through to the end is a symbol of their intent to fulfill their sworn oath, whatever that may be. Some of the devoted will even make the trek barefoot to pay homage to the Indian peasant, Juan Diego, who as legend has it, was visited by the Virgin and instructed to build a church for her followers, a church which has since become known as the enormous Basilica of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe in Mexico City.
The pilgrims’ long journey ends on the actual holiday, when the runners reach their destination city and are greeted with a mass and a festival in their lady’s honor. Music, dancing, flowers, food and vendors selling crafts, and of course clothes with iron-on Madonnas fill the zocalos (town squares). In the Riviera Maya, Tulum is where you will find the most enthusiastic and traditional celebration of this holiday. Xcaret ecological park in Playa del Carmen also hosts an unforgettable festival each year on December 11.
Ever since her appearance to Juan Diego in 1531, Señora de Guadalupe has become a major part of Mexican identity. Her image flew on banners as they rode into battles of the revolution. She is the Queen of Mexico who can be found everywhere.
“When Mexicans no longer believe in anything, they will still hold fast to their belief in the Virgin of Guadalupe.” – Octavio Paz, writer and Nobel Prize winner.