SALT LAKE CITY — Every year Hispanic Catholics celebrate the Día de la Candelaria (Candlemas, or the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, traditionally observed 40 days after the Nativity of the Lord. It is the end of the Christmas/Epiphany season).
During the Día de la Candelaria people dress figurines representing the Christ Child in special outfits and take them to churches to be blessed.
This year on Feb. 2 at Sacred Heart Parish in Salt Lake City, many of the faithful arrived at the Spanish Masses excited to celebrate the feast. Each figurine brought was dressed differently, some in blue with white accents, others in hues of red, others with hats and other accessories.
Juana Arteaga arrived accompanied by her daughters and husband, carrying an image of the Child Jesus dressed in colors of red and gold.
Arteaga brings the figurine to Mass on this feast day every year accompanied by her family, she said.
“This tradition was taught by my grandparents to my parents and from them to me. ... It’s very important for me, and I want my daughters to keep it when they grow up, and for the generations to come,” said Arteaga, who has been preparing the figurine for the celebration since the Posadas started on Dec. 16.
The first step was selecting godparents for the figurine, which is part of the tradition. Then, on Christmas Eve, the figurine is placed in the crèche. On Jan. 6, the Feast of the Epiphany (Feast of the Three Kings), the figurine of the child is brought presents from the Magi, and on Feb. 2, the child is dressed in fine clothes and presented in the church.
This year the Arteagas selected some family members as godparents.
“They were in charge of buying the outfit for the figurine, and the presents,” Arteaga said.
Like the Arteagas, Elizabeth Flores arrived at the celebration at Sacred Heart Parish carrying in her arms a figurine, this one dressed in white and blue. This was the first year that she brought a figurine to the feast to be blessed.
“For me it’s very important because it represents the presentation of Jesus,” she said referring to the fact that Candlemas celebrates the presentation of Jesus at the temple. Candlemas is also the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the Jewish tradition, a woman who had given birth had to be ritually cleansed of impurity.
“This helps me understand better my [Catholic] faith,” said Flores, who also chose godparents for the figurine. The godparents selected the outfit.
“I am very grateful to them,” Flores said.
Father Roberto Montoro, administrator of Sacred Heart Parish, began the celebration with a candle ceremony, during which many parishioners carried a white candle that, after being blessed, was lit.
“This day we celebrate Mary and Joseph presenting Jesus at the temple … illuminated by Christ himself,” Fr. Montoro said.
This tradition is based on the biblical passage of Luke 2:29-32 that says that when Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple, a particularly devout man named Simeon embraced the child and prayed the Canticle of Simeon: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.”
The canticle’s reference to the light inspired the celebration of the blessing of the candles, Fr. Montoro explained.
Before Communion, Fr. Montoro asked all who brought a figurine to step forward in front of the altar for the blessing.
This tradition also involves a special gathering at which people share tamales, as a continuation of the festivities of Three Kings’ Day on Jan. 6. On that day, people customarily eat Rosca de Reyes, a special sweet bread with figurines of a baby (representing the Child Jesus) hidden inside. The person (or people) who receive the figurines on Three Kings Day are in charge of hosting a party on Candlemas Day.