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RELIGION: Mexico. La Candelaria

Yesterday, Saturday, Mexican TV news ran quite a story about today, Sunday, being a holiday, "la Candelaria" and showed people making the dishes eaten to celebrate it. I was puzzled until this morning I saw mass from San Bernardo Cathedral, in San Antonio, Texas. Then the light dawned on me. It was the Festival of Light, Candlemass, a feast I had only read about, but never seen. In fact, I suspect that Mexico may be the only Catholic country where it is still widely celebrated, even though the chilangos (people of Mexico City) have secularized it into another day consecrated to food. The Spaniards do not seem to mark it even in this way.

It comes on February 2, forty days after Christmas, although it is actually celebrated on the nearest Sunday. It commemorates the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple; he was to be "a light to lighten the Gentiles." Now it celebrates those who have consecrated their lives to God, and in San Antonio the guests of honor were all the nuns of the diocese, each one holding a candle, a very touching spectacle. At the Russian Church fair in Menlo Park, my wife bought for me an Orthodox calendar, with a page about each day. Sure enough, today is the Feast of Candles. It is confusing, since it is January 22 by the old calendar. It looks as though the Russian Orthodox Church has aligned its feasts with the Western usage. Hoover expert John Dunlop can tell us whether this is so, and whether Candlemass is much celebrated in Russia.

It was a relief to escape from the real world, where NATO defense ministers were meeting in Munich and discussing the missiles which may blow us all up, from the Middle East, where Sharon looks certain to win the Israeli elections (I was chilled by his use of the expression "final solution), and from Rio de Janeiro, where millions of crazy youths gathered on the beaches and swayed as they celebrated "the world´s greatest rock festival". The world has gone mad. The lights of Candlemass have given way to the strobe lights swinging across the skies above the Rio rock festival and to the flashes of gunfire through the night skies of Jerusalem, where the first Festival of Light was held in the Temple. From Candlemass through Goethe's call for "licht, mehr licht", to modern "lighting", light has been banalized and the darkness has grown darker.

Ronald Hilton - 02/04/01