By Msgr. Michael Flannery
MADISON – The months of November and December are exceptionally busy months at the Saltillo Mission. Mexican people have a great devotion to their deceased brothers and sisters. Mass is celebrated at the cemetery and each of the graves are blessed in turn by the priest.
People bring the favorite food of their loved ones and have a picnic at the cemetery and actually leave some food on the graves of their loved ones on all Souls Day, November 2. They adorn the graves with flowers. That same day begins a 40-day novena in in preparation for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, December 12, with the recitation of the rosary in each home with the whole family gathered around.
For the celebration of the feast, all churches remain open starting at midnight. Various choirs, Mariachi bands and different groups go from church to church singing “Las Mañitas – a birthday song to Mary. The tradition is to begin with the local parish church and go from parish to parish and end up with a visit to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Every major city has a special shrine or sanctuary in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Following quickly on the heels of that feast is the celebration of Las Posadas beginning on December 16th. A posada is the Spanish word for “inn”. There is a long-standing tradition that it took Mary and Joseph nine days to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem and each night they would request to stay at an inn. Usually, nine families pre-arrange to meet at nine homes and recite a para-liturgy and rosary commemorating the event. A meal is shared at the home of the host family for that particular evening.
When Christmas comes, the emphasis is on midnight Mass. The bells ring out in all the churches. Most families attend midnight Mass and then go from home to home in the neighborhood to celebrate Christmas. On Christmas day they usually sleep late after partying all night long. Most families will have a nativity scene in their homes. The custom is to leave that nativity scene there until March 19, which is the feast of St. Joseph.
It is against the law to cut trees in Mexico because of the limited supply of harvestable wood. Therefore, most homes have artificial Christmas trees. Christmas lights will adorn the tree and the Christmas presents are placed beneath. However, the sharing or distribution of Christmas gifts does not take place until the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6.
Tradition has it that the Magi took some time in following the star until eventually they arrived in Bethlehem. Between Christmas and Epiphany, each evening the children come to the parish church and participate in a para-liturgy and are given candy in anticipation of the arrival of the wise men. The Christmas presents are then distributed in each home with the celebration of Epiphany. These two months are full of prayer, activities and devotions.
(Msgr. Michael Flannery is a retired priest of the Diocese of Jackson. He served in Saltillo and this year wrote a history of the mission, once staffed by this diocese. Msgr. Flannery lives in Madison.)