“Lupe Reyes” (Lupe, a shortening of Guadalupe; Reyes, referring to the Three Kings) sounds like a woman's name, but in fact is the nickname for a frenzy of celebration bracketed by December 12, Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the front end and Epiphany, January 6, the celebration of Los Tres Reyes, at its close. In between fall 9 days of posadas, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, December 28, Day of the Holy Innocents (Mexico’s April Fools’ equivalent), January 1, The Circumcision of Jesus; and January 6, when Mexican children expect gifts just as the baby Jesus received such from the Wise Men and all ages participate in cutting the rosca.
Lupe Reyes may be the official start of the Christmas holidays but for many throughout Mexico the preparations have already begun. Driving in Chiapas two weeks ago I was stopped multiple times along the highway by young people collecting money for their pueblo’s pilgrimage to the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City. Across Mexico groups are fundraising and assembling their caravans to make the journey, light a torch at the Basilica, and return home by December 12. They arrive at the Basilica on foot, bicycle or in highly decorated trucks carrying the Guadalupe of their home church. The return is usually a torch running relay with trucks and buses dropping off the runners ahead. In the days immediately preceding the 12th you'll see these relays on country roads, federal highways, even the autopistas; they can take a week of running night and day.
On the 9th, 10th and 12th of December of 1531 the Virgin Mary, in her manifestation as Guadalupe, appeared to Juan Diego, a recently baptized Indigenous merchant. She was a beautiful, life-size, woman hovering slightly above the ground. Most any Mexican will be glad to tell you his or her understanding of these momentous events and the conversations which ensued. The four encounters -- three apparitions to Juan Diego, the fourth when her image appeared on Juan Diego’s cape in the presence of Bishop Zumarraga -- are so important in Mexican thought that portrayals of them frequently replace the four evangelists in the four medallions at the base of domes in catholic churches.
December 12, from morning to night, may be the loudest day of the year in Mexico. Traditions of celebrating the Feast Day of Guadalupe are as varied as those of the Days of the Dead but none of them are quiet. In most parts of Mexico the bells call the people to a pre-dawn mass. The cohetes (rockets) start at midnight and will continue until the following nightfall.
Parres, a charming small pueblo on the outskirts of Cuernavaca has it’s own Virgin of Guadalupe traditions, starting on December 2 with a daily novena consisting of prayers, saying of the rosary, and moving the statue of Guadalupe from one house to the next. As she moves through the streets the people sing devotional songs. When they reach her new home for the night there will be more prayers, rosaries, singing, followed by atole and treats for the children. Our Lady of Guadalupe is returned to the church on the night of December 11 when a large mass receives her and the pilgrims who have accompanied her on her journey either through the pueblo or with her light from the Basilica. After the mass cohetes resume their vigil. The men charged with this task stay awake all night helped by freely partaking in a jug of pulque. By morning one does well to stay out of range of the rockets.
In the pre-dawn of December 12, church bells ring and the band and community play and sing the Mexican traditional birthday song of Las Mañanitas to the Virgin before the first mass of the day. When Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego she said, “Am I not here, I who am your mother?” From that day Mexicans have all had two mothers, the one they share with their brothers and sisters and the one who is mother to the nation. A special verse of Las Mañanitas is sung on this occasion.
For the moon I’d give a peso, For the sun, I’d give a half
For my mother, and the Virgin, My life and my heart.
The town band and cohetes accompany the singers. The mass includes numerous songs, celebrating Mary which everyone sings. After mass the town assembles for atole and pan dulce. A few hours later the church's statue of Guadalupe is carried into the street and, followed by the band and the community, makes numerous stops as the rosary is said. Masses, cohetes, bell-ringing and the band continue throughout the day until nightfall. Silence finally descends. But this is only the beginning of Lupe Reyes. There will be much more bell-ringing and many more cohetes in the weeks that follow.