The 12th of December is a very special day for the Mexican people - the day they celebrate their mother, their patroness, la Virgen de Guadalupe. I grew up Catholic on the Texas-Mexico border and we actually had a bigger devotion to la Virgen de San Juan, the most famous one in San Juan de los Lagos, Jalisco, but also with another famous American shrine in San Juan, Texas.
However, on the eve of December 12th I always remember staying up late with my mother watching las mañanitas a la Virgen broadcast live, and all night, from the Basilica de Guadalupe in Mexico City. To me it was thrilling to see a parade of Mexican celebrities - some ranchero singers (Lucha Villa, Pedrito Fernandez, Antonio Aguilar) and some pop singers (Lucero, Yuri, Daniela Romo) - all line up to sing praises to the Virgen, their devotion seeming quite sincere and apparent. Everyone's religious side came out at that time.
My spiritual leanings are more open and varied now, but I've grown into a bigger appreciation of Guadalupe and what she stands for - the indigenous goddess Tonantzin, the original black madonna Guadalupe in the Extremadura region of Spain, mestizaje, the faith of an entire nation and continent, the faith of the poor, strength, resistance, identity, the remaining and surviving feminine face of the divine in patriarchical religions.
I also appreciate, and love, the tradition which is now well established in the U.S. In Austin, Texas at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church they pull out all the stops on the 12th for the Virgen. Several masses are celebrated throughout the day, mariachis sing las mañanitas for her at midnight, indigenous roots matachines drum and dance their way to the altar in her honor, and the bishop celebrates the mass. (In Austin that's happens to be a Mexican-American, Bishop Joe Vasquez.) The religious celebration is followed by a community party of tamales, champurrado and pan dulce at the parish hall (all past midnight, mind you!)
It is a beautiful celebration with full display of the richness of cultures and beliefs coming together - indigenous and European - but most importantly the faith, strength and endurance of a people that is palpatable. These pictures and video of last year's celebration at Guadalupe Church in Austin may give you a taste of it, but I highly recommend experiencing the real thing. (check out the video below as it transitions from mariachi to matachines)
Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!