December 12th is an important Mexican holiday that commemorates Our Lady of Guadalupe. Thousands of Mexicans from all around the country make a pilgrimage to Mexico City so they can gather at the Basicilica of Guadalupe. Many people begin to show up on the 11th, many of whom take the whole journey by bicycle. There are even trucks that follow these cyclists in case of emergency situations, and to offer other such assistance. Most of the bicyclists are male. If you live or plan to move to Mexico, this is certainly a holiday to experience!
At the sight of the Basilica, many dancers and musicians also gather to offer art to the icon. Nighttime of the 12th is quite festive, full of people of all ages and backgrounds from all over Mexico coming to celebrate this holiday. A great mass is held at this time, and it is said to be a very spiritually bonding experience.
Outside of Mexico City and the Basilica of Guadalupe, Mexicans throw all sorts of fiestas all over the country. You can find statues and pictures of the Virgin everywhere, and people are dancing and holding all sorts of spiritual events and praying. People also set off firecrackers and light all sorts of lights, so it’s a very visually stimulating holiday.
The history of this holiday dates back to the 1500s. There were many Spanish missionaries at this time around Mexico City. One of them, Juan Diego, is said to have seen an image of a young woman surrounded by light on the slopes of the Hill of Tepeyac. She supposedly was speaking in Nahuatl, the native language, and was asking for a church to be built on site. Juan Diego decided that this vision must be the Virgin Mary, and went to tell all of the other Spanish missionaries about her.
This is just a legend; it is subject to historical, and of course realistic, debate. Nevertheless, the symbol of the Virgin of Guadalupe has been a national Mexican symbol ever since the War of Independence. The rebel armies used her image on their flags during wartime. She has been a popular figure among Mexican Catholics ever since.
Some historians even believe that this symbol is a mix of new and old Mexican culture. Some think that she is not only representative of the Virgin Mary, but also the Mexican goddess Tonantzin, or the Aztec goddess Coatilcue. Whatever the case, it is a widely recognized symbol of the country.