From Eating Lots of Tamales to Dancing the Night Way, Here’s How Latinos Celebrate ‘El Día de la Candelaria’  

It’s February the second meaning that many people in Latin American countries are in celebration mode. Mexico, in particular, will be celebrating with lots of tamales, which sounds like the perfect way to end this week. But why is today so special to Latinos? Well, today is the Day of Candelaria or El Día de la Candelaria.  

According to the Mexican government’s official website, la Candelaria stands out as a celebration that intertwines indigenous roots and Catholic rituals. Rooted in Mesoamerican festivities that honored the rain god Tlaloques, La Candelaria, marked on February 2, now blends with the Catholic calendar’s Candlemas Day (Día de la Candelaria), symbolizing the Purification of the Virgin Mary and the presentation of the Infant Jesus in the Temple. 

At the heart of this celebration is the beloved tamale – at least for Mexicans. This is a culinary tradition that has withstood the test of time, persisting through religious shifts in indigenous communities. 

Who Makes the Tamales on El Día de la Candelaria?

This special day is often welcomed with a tamaliza. But this process begins weeks before.  

La Candelaria is a Catholic ritual that begins at Christmas with the birth of Jesus. Families place Nativity scenes in their homes during the holiday season and eat Rosca on January 6 to symbolize the day when the Three Wise Men offered gold, myrrh, and incense to the newborn Jesus. 

Those who find the “muñequito” in their slice become the “godparents of the Child” and must offer tamales on February 2. This day, according to tradition, marks the “raising” of the Infant Jesus from the manger to “dress” him and continue the Catholic journey through Carnivals in March, Lent, and Ash Wednesday, culminating in Holy Week.


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In some regions, there’s a tradition of “dressing” the Infant Jesus in various outfits, which is a way to showcase his progression to a miraculous state. 

Mexicans Love Their Tamales

Throughout Latin America, tamales exist under different names, but in Mexico, “tamal” comes from the Nahuatl word “tamalli,” meaning wrapped. Mexico boasts the world’s most diverse array of tamales. 

Tamales are maize-based dishes filled with various ingredients, wrapped and cooked in vegetable leaves like corn or banana, and even reeds, chilaca, or papatla. 

Introduced by the Spanish and later influenced by evangelizing friars, this tradition spread across Latin America. 

In Mexico, La Candelaria also coincides with the planting season, leading communities to bless corn on February 2 as an offering to the god Tláloc for a bountiful harvest. The date also aligns with celebrations led by Tláloc and his sister Chalchiuhtlicue, gods of water. 

Today, tamales bear names based on their content: rajas con queso, calabaza, haba, papa, frijol, mole, chile, dulce. They also come in colors like green and red, indicating the sauce they are bathed in. From fruit tamales like pineapple, capulín, plum, and chabacano to savory options like fish, charales, or carp, and even mushroom tamales during the rainy season – all wrapped in corn husks and seasoned delicately with garlic, onion, and epazote. 

Eating tamales on this occasion is a gastronomic indulgence, reflecting the blend of pre-Hispanic and Catholic traditions. 

Mexico Doesn’t Celebrate La Candelaria on Its Own

Beyond the borders of Mexico, other countries in Latin America also partake in the celebration. According to National Geographic, every country has its way of honoring La Candelaria on February 2nd.  

Argentina’s Dance of Lights

In certain regions of Argentina, La Candelaria is a spectacle of traditional dances and fireworks, illuminating the night sky. The celebration honors Nuestra Señora de Buen Aire, a representation akin to the Virgin of Candelaria but with a distinctive name. This revered figure holds the patronage of Buenos Aires, where the festivities come alive with beautiful processions and candle-lit vigils. 

Bolivia’s Copacabana Connection

In the heart of Copacabana, Bolivia, the Virgen de Copacabana takes center stage as the local representation of La Candelaria. Crafted by Francisco “Tito” Yupanqui, this figure arrived in Copacabana on February 2, 1583. The celebration extends its embrace to municipalities such as Coroico in La Paz, Aiquile in Cochabamba, Rurrenabaque in Beni, Samaipata in Santa Cruz, and La Angostura in Tarija. Each region paints the day of La Candelaria with special masses, processions, musical ensembles, traditional dances, and fairs adorned with cheese and apples. 

Chile’s Devotion on Isla Mancera

On Isla Mancera in Valdivia, Chile, a profound devotion to the Virgen de la Candelaria has echoed since 1645. Discovered by Mariano Caro Inca near Copiapó, the island hosts a sanctuary dedicated to the Virgin. In the village of Mincha, a temple has been a national historical monument since 1980. The celebration on February 2 includes masses, processions, music, and heartfelt prayers, creating an atmosphere of spiritual reverence. 

Colombia’s Dual Patronage

The Virgen de la Candelaria extends her patronage over Colombian cities, with Medellín and Cartagena de Indias standing under her protective gaze. In addition, the municipality of Magangué and various municipalities in Antioquia, Bolívar, Norte de Santander, and Boyacá join the celebration with fervent masses, processions, and communal festivities. 

Cuba’s Cultural Processions

In the city of Camagüey and the town of San Fernando de Camarones, Cuba, the Virgen de la Candelaria is venerated as the patroness. Cities like Morón and Consolación del Sur in Pinar del Rio hold traditional processions to capture the essence of the celebration. 

Peru’s UNESCO-recognized Holiday

Peru, particularly in Puno, boasts one of the grandest celebrations of La Candelaria, acknowledged as an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO. The festivities extend beyond Puno, encompassing rehearsals, venerations, novenas, traditional dances, processions, and special masses, creating a vibrant cultural mosaic. 

Countries such as Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, and Venezuela also celebrate La Candelaria or the Virgin of Candelaria. Each place brings its unique touch to the festivities, emphasizing the cultural and religious diversity that defines this celebration across Latin America.  

Are you ready to celebrate El Dia de Candelaria? 

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