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Tamales compete with pizza and burgers for Día de la Candelaria

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Tamales have competition as the main food for Candelaria. Photo: Internet

Mérida, Yucatán — Friday was Día de la Candelaria, marked every Feb. 2 with selling, serving and devouring as many tamales as possible.

But market vendors reported slow sales this year. They blamed unfair competition: hamburgers and pizza.

“It is not the same anymore, there are many more things,” said Graciela Martínez Pool, who operates a market stall at Lucas de Gálvez.

Efrén Solís, who sells religious icons at the market, said the tamale tradition has been fading for a few years. As as result, it’s harder to find tamale vendors at either Lucas de Gálvez or San Benito.

Instead, there is pizza, kibis, tortas, tacos and hamburgers.

Candelaria is linked to an earlier celebration, Three Kings Day on Jan. 6. Whoever gets the toy “Jesus” in their traditional Rosca de Reyes is committed to serving heaps of tamales to the same guests at the table on Feb. 2.

For many this is the end of a marathon of holiday celebrations, a welcome date for those who want to sit down at the table and enjoy tamales.

Día de la Candelaria reflects the Biblical depiction of the day the Christ child was presented in the temple. Jewish law said that babies had to be taken to the temple after 40 days because women were considered to be unclean until this period had passed since giving birth.

So on Feb. 2 — 40 days after Christmas — Mary took Jesus to the temple along with candles or candelas, hence the name “Candelaria.” It is the day of the purification of the Virgin and the presentation of the Lord.

Pre-Hispanic Mexicans had also a ceremony in the beginning of February and it is believed that Spanish evangelizers used this to their benefit to convert them to the Catholic faith.

Aztecs had the tradition of paying a tribute to their rain god Tlaloc and the tlaloques (clouds). This was done by dressing up their children, taking them to the Tlaloc Hill and making them cry tears, signifying water they hoped would fall from the skies, benefiting their crops. The connection with children probably made it easier for Catholic priests to link it to their religious celebration.

The celebration has not disappeared, however.

“Día de la Candelaria is a celebration that transcends beyond Catholic borders and can be considered the third most important religious festival in the country, after Holy Week and Christmas,” says INAH anthropologist Yesenia Peña.

INAH counts as many as 5,000 varieties of tamales. The most traditional ones have chicken and pork meat with hot sauces, but they are also made with sweet ingredients or even insects.

With information from Diario de Yucatán, BBC

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