Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Lupe Reyes

Have you met Lupe Reyes? No, not the person. Lupe Reyes is what Mexicans call the time period from December 12th through January 6th. Lupe refers to the Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, December 12, and Reyes refers to Epiphany, the celebration of Los Reyes Magos, Three Kings' Day on January 6th. In addition to the anchor dates at each end, Lupe Reyes includes celebrations of the "posadas", Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, the Day of the Holy Innocents, and the Feast of the Name of Jesus on New Year's Day.

Lupe Reyes pulls together a marvelous amalgamation of events rooted in different cultures all in less than a month.

Guadalupe is a name of Arabic origin. Words with "guada" in them refer to the sound of running water. In other contexts we've heard or seen that word as "wadi" for dry riverbeds in the desert. The Virgin of Guadalupe is a Spanish manifestation of the Virgin Mary, and the Arabic origin of the name is a remnant of the Moors long domination there. She first appeared in Spain as a wooden image attributed to Luke the Evangelist. Spanish conquerors and colonists entrusted themselves to her at her shrine before setting off across the ocean. Likewise they thanked her for their safe journey upon arrival in this hemisphere. She appeared in Mexico as a life-sized, beautiful woman whose feet did not touch the ground to Juan Diego, an indigenous merchant. This happened on the 9th, 10th, and 12th of December in 1531 on the same hilltop where the Aztecs had worshiped Tonantzin, the goddess of fertility.

The posadas take place from December 16 to 24 and re-enact Mary and Joseph's attempt to find room at an inn. They lead up to Christmas on the 25th. Next comes the Day of the Holy Innocents on December 28, doubling as Mexico’s equivalent of April Fools’ day. All are Christian celebrations dealing with the birth of Jesus.

January 1st is The Feast of the Name of Jesus. This celebrates Jesus’ circumcision ceremony in which he became a member of the covenant established between Abraham and God following the instructions given in the Book of Genesis (chapter 17, verse 12). In other words, Jesus didn't become “Jesus” until eight days after he was born. Though there is much debate about the actual date of Jesus’ birth, I have no doubt that it is because of this Jewish ceremony that we start the Christian calendar on January 1st, not on Christmas Day.

Epiphany, or Three Kings Day, is January 6th. That’s when Mexican children expect gifts just as the baby Jesus received gifts from the Wise Men. All ages participate in cutting the "rosca", a special Three Kings' Day bread. The Three Kings or Three Wise Men are frequently used to symbolize the cultural and ethnic diversity of Christianity.

This year, in addition to Moorish, Spanish, Aztec, Christian, and Jewish influences, Lupe Reyes includes a significant Mayan religious event.

The ancient Maya deified time in addition to worshiping gods of the natural forces. They kept count and celebrated “bactuns”, a time period of 144,000 days.  In their world-view the humanity that we are a part of will be completing our thirteenth bactun on December 21. The count began in August of 3113 B.C.

The completion of bactun 13 and the beginning of bactun 14 is a moment when some gods will drop out of the procession of time and others will take their place. Because of that turnover the new bactun will have a distinct personality, different from the previous.

Though an important milestone, the Mayans don’t believe that December 21 will be the end of time. Not to put a damper on the "end of the world" parties planned for that night.

The day will be celebrated throughout the Maya world by those who honor Maya religion and its calendar. However, according to the Associated Press, Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology (INAH) is not allowing indigenous ceremonies at Maya archeological sites “for visitor safety and preservation of the sites." Indigenous shamans and religious and community leaders will have to find other places to honor the gods passing the staff in the relay march of time. INAH spokesman Francisco de Anda, went on to say, "many of the groups that want to hold ceremonies bring braziers and want to burn incense, and that simply isn't allowed."  Horrors!

In Guatemala indigenous ceremonies will be carried out at important Maya temples in present-day archeological sites. Guatemala's peace accords brokered by the United Nations and signed in 1996 guarantee the right of indigenous people to free access to their ancient temples as well as the right to carry out ceremonies in archeological sites. The treaty even required that contemporary archeologists construct appropriate altars for offerings, many of which involve fire and incense at the base of ancient temples.

Lupe Reyes is a fascinating time to be in Mexico. Charlie's Digs' of late November and early December 2010 and 2011 cover other aspects of these year-end holidays.  Columns dated August 2 and 9, 2011 deal with the Maya calendar and the completion of backtun 13. All are posted at charliesdigs.blogspot.com.  

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