A Christian Holiday Celebrates a Jewish Tradition

Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 3.26.53 PMBy Neal Erickson

In the year 0 A.D. when Jesus of Nazareth was born, the Jewish Law of Moses dictated that a baby and its mother must present themselves at the Temple of worship forty days after it’s birth. Followers of Jesus Christ celebrate Jesus and Mary’s presentation every February 2nd. In Mexico it is called “el Dia de la Candelaria”, and in other parts of the world it is known as “Candelmas”, the “Feast of Purification”, or the “Presentation of Christ at the Temple”, among other names.

According to the New Testament of the Christian Bible (Luke 2:25-35), there was a “devout and righteous” Jewish man named Simeon present the day Mary and Jesus arrived at the Temple in Jerusalem. Simeon had claimed that he had been visited by God and promised that he would see the “Lord’s Christ”, (Messiah, or Saviour of the Jews) before he died. It is written that when he held the baby Jesus in his arms, he said, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace; according to Thy word: for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people: to be a light to lighten the gentiles and to be the glory of Thy people Israel.”

El Dia de la Candelaria is the celebration of this day in history, and is the final feast of the Christmas season. In Central and Southern Mexico the traditional feast always includes tamales, and it’s tied directly to the preceding feast day on January 6, the “Feast of the Epiphany”, sometimes referred to as the “Three Kings Day” or as it’s known in Mexico, “El Dia de los Reyes”. On that day in Mexico, the central food is a special cake that has a tiny figurine representing the baby Jesus baked somewhere inside. Whoever gets the piece of cake containing this figurine takes on the responsibility to provide tamales for the February 2nd Dia de la Candelaria feast. Often there is more than one figurine so that the tamales preparation can be shared. This feast of tamales marks the end of the Christmas celebration in Mexican tradition.