día de la candelaria / candlemas

As we know, whoever finds the little baby Jesus figurine in their slice of Kings’ Day bread has to make the tamales on Día de la Candelaria (2nd February). But what are tamales and what is so special about this day? Let’s delve a little deeper and find out where this tradition comes from…

Every year on the sixth of January, Mexicans remember the Three Kings who visited baby Jesus and brought him gifts following his birth. Forty days later (on the second of February in our modern calendar), Mexicans believe that the Virgin Mary made her way to the temple, carrying candles, to present baby Jesus for the first time. Today, they uphold this tradition by proceeding to the church themselves, accompanied by many candles that represent Jesus as the light of the world. In some cities like Tlacotalpan and Coyoacán, fireworks and music accompany huge parades, while in others it is a quieter affair. However, it is generally very common for people to carry dolls dressed in special clothes to look like baby Jesus, a tradition that became popular at the beginning of the 20th century. Nowadays, you can find special shops (on the Calle Talavera in Mexico City if you're interested) where splendid clothes in all colours can be bought to dress your doll for the procession. People then always return home for a feast of tamales in the afternoon.

However, this tradition has links that date back much further, to pre-Hispanic times. At this time of year, the ancient Mexicans celebrated the crop planting season, where they would plant corn seeds and pay tribute to the rain god Tlaloc, with the hope the rains would come and they would reap a good harvest. In Aztec times, corn was considered to be sacred and formed the basis of all things, including man. As a result, the corn-based dish of tamales has been eaten in some form for thousands of years.

These traditions are also reflected in the ancient celebration of Candlemas and Groundhog Day, which is still remembered today in countries such as the United States and France. This time of year marked the planting of the crops and according to this proverb, it was believed that the weather at Candlemas would predict the success of that year's harvest.

And now...for the tamales! A tamal (plural: tamales) is a delicious dish made from cornmeal dough steamed inside a banana leaf (tamal oaxaqueño) or corn husk and wrapped up like a little parcel.

Tamales have always been eaten as part of agricultural celebrations in pre-Hispanic times, long before the Spanish arrived in Mexico. The word tamal actually derives from the Nahuatl word tamalli, meaning 'wrapped'. By the way: Nahuatl is an ancient language that has been spoken in Central Mexico since the seventh century CE (at least) and var