In 1531, the mother of Christ appeared to an Indian convert named Juan Diego with a very special message to the Bishop of Mexico City, leaving her portrait on Juan Diego's mantle (or tilma, in Spanish) as proof of her message to the Bishop. This image (pictured to the left) has become an important icon and is kept at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, the most visited shrine in the world. I most recently visited this shrine soon after college with my parents and found it to be such a moving and reflective place. Our Lady of Guadalupe was declared Patroness of Latin America in 1910 and in 1945 Pope Pius XII declared Her to be the Empress of all the Americas. You can learn more about this story here.
While December 12th is the main feast day dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, preparations begin 9 days pior with a novena, a special prayer devotion repeated on nine successive days. Each evening, believers gather at a church to pray the rosary and ask for her intercession with their prayers.
I have heard and read that in Mexico City as December 12th approaches, more and more pilgrims arrive at the Basilica each day, attending the novenas in her honor and many camping out in and around the Basilica! I hope that one day I can be there at the Basilica to celebrate, it's on my bucket list for sure! Then, on December 12th the main festivities are celebrated with las Mañanitas (the "Mexican Birthday Song"), typically at midnight or early in the morning and Mass. Mañanitas are Mexican songs that area traditionally sung to people early in the morning most often on their birthday, but they are also sung on other special occasions, like an anniversary or a seranade. They are traditionally sung to Our Lady of Guadalupe on her feast day, usually accompanied by a mariachi.
Our home parish will celebrate las mañanitas for Our Lady with a Mariachi at 5 a.m., followed by hot cocoa and pan dulce! As a matter of fact, as I write this my parents are in Mexico, attending a sunrise Mañanitas celebration in her honor. Mass is celebrated in the evening, followed by more delicious treats and a piñata for the kids.
I remember getting up so early, around 4:30 in the morning, on December 12th as a child. I would bundle up in my warmest clothes and head to the super early 5 a.m. Mañanita celebration with one of my parents. In the evening, our entire family would attend Mass, we would have to get there early because it was jam packed. Kids would be dressed in traditional Mexican clothing, sometimes adults too! People were excited, happy to be celebrating such a wonderful day. In addition to the song and prayers in her honor, roses are traditionally handed out to the faithful. Why? The rose is Our Lady's flower, having asked Juan Diego to bring roses to the Bishop wrapped in his mantle to help prove her message and will to him. When asked by the Bishop to shop him what he carried in his mantle, Juan Diego opened his mantel, the roses falling to the ground, and Our Lady's image on his mantle.
I lived in Mexico until I was 5 and celebrated this beautiful tradition every year. That's me in the picture on the left, dressed in traditional Mexican clothes on December 12th when I was 3 years old, as part of the procession. I appreciated that the tradition stayed with my family when we moved to Chicago and that it grew quite a bit in our church during my childhood. Now I have 4 kids and want to pass on celebrating this tradition to them. I plan on taking my two oldest to Spanish Mass tonight and enjoying the fiesta to follow, it will be beautiful.
How can you celebrate? By far the best way is to attend a Mass or Mañanita celebration on December 12th. Check local Catholic churches to see if they are hosting any special events on this day. In the past I have hosted an Our Lady of Guadalupe party for my kids and our friends, everyone loved it! Check out the pictures from the party.
How to Have an Our Lady of Guadalupe Party
- Ask parents to familiarize their children and themselves with the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe before the party.
- Set up a small shrine to Our Lady in the party area and ask guests to bring flowers to adorn the shrine. Any flowers are ok, but roses are more traditional. The shrine can be as simple or elaborate as you like, but a small table covered with nice tablecloth with an image Our Lady of Guadalupe centered on it would be perfect. You may want a few vases for your flowers as well on the table. Votive candles with an image of Our Lady are also very traditional and nice for your shrine. They can be found at many Mexican grocery stores, some chain grocery stores carry them in their Hispanic food section.
- Keep decorations simple, papel picado is a very traditional Mexican decoration and can be made out of tissue paper, this a great project that your kids can do ahead of time. There are several online vendors that carry an assortment of papel picado as well. Poinsettias are a native flower of Mexico and are very popular during the Christmas season, they add early holiday cheer to any party!
- Play Mexican music in the background. I really like Our Lady of the Guitar, it's a beautiful musical pilgrimage to Our Lady.
- Once your guests have arrived, read the story of our Lady of Guadalupe. I really enjoy the book The Lady of Guadalupe by Tomie de Paola. I also really like Our Lady of Guadalupe by Fransisco Serrano and Our Lady of Guadalupe in a Box.
- Next, have the guests line up for a procession, with their flowers. While singing the traditional Mañanitas they can bring their flowers up to the shrine. Click for the audio to Las Mañanitas.
- Once everyone has placed their flowers on the shrine, lead your guests in prayer. This can be as simple or elaborate as you like, but we simply had guests recite The Hail Mary in Spanish, which they were to learn ahead of time.
Dios te salve, Maria. Llena eres gracia: El Senor es contigo.
Bendita tu eres entre todas las mujeres. Y benito es el fruto de tu vientre: Jesus.
Santa Maria, Madre de Dios, ruega por nosotros pecadores, ahora y en hora nuestra muerte. Amen.
- We followed by showing the movie Juan Diego, Messenger of Guadalupe and with a craft. The crafts can be very simple, like printing out coloring pages of Our Lady. At our party I had children decorate their very own tilmas. I ironed on an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe onto each plain canvas apron and each child personlized it with their name and flowers, with fabric markers. One of my favorite crafts is this grotto kit for Our Lady.
- Serve a Mexican themed buffet style lunch. For our party I made enchiladas, rice and beans. I also served tacitos, a salad and chips with salsa.
- For dessert serve Mexican sweet bread, pan dulce, and Mexican hot chocolate.
- Finish with a pinata!
- We asked guests to bring a small for a local women's pregnancy counseling center. Guests donated baby items like diapers, wipes, and gently used clothes to help a great cause.
- This website has many wonderful suggestions on crafts that you can incorporate into your party, depending on age of those attending. You can find more suggestions on how to have a party in Our lady's honor here.