Happy Candlemas, Jesus!

Tomorrow is the big day, and lots of folks are getting ready…

From the In My Backyard Desk…a colorful look at preparations underway in Brooklyn, courtesy the New York Times:

Norma Castro laid the familiar figure on the counter before her, next to a basket of poblano peppers. Then, ignoring the twangy bachata music that blared from a nearby market stall, she furrowed her brow, delicately plucked it up and admired it.

Behold, the baby Jesus — away from his manger, and in Brooklyn, no less.

For the next half-hour, Ms. Castro plied the skills of a tailor and a surgeon on the infant, a footlong plaster statue. She draped it in layers of shimmering blue silk with gold brocade trim, carefully sewed shut the seams, then gently crowned the infant with a plastic golden halo.

She performs this service for hundreds of statues each year around this time, as Mexican Roman Catholics prepare to celebrate the Feast of Candelaria, or Candlemas, which marks the presentation of the infant Jesus at the temple — and the end of the holiday season — 40 days after Christmas.

For weeks before the feast, which will be observed on Wednesday, scores of Mexican women bring their statues to Ms. Castro’s stall, on the eastern edge of Williamsburg, to be repaired and dressed before they are taken to church.

In the pan-Latino bazaar that is the Moore Street Retail Market, Ms. Castro and her mother, Isabel Gil-Rosas, sustain traditions that are centuries old among fellow Mexicans who live here and are too poor or busy to return home, or lack the papers they would need to return here.

Mrs. Gil-Rosas travels to Mexico several times a month to buy food, herbs, crafts and statues that are snapped up by a homesick clientele back in Brooklyn. “This comforts us,” she said. “It’s a spiritual duty we Mexicans have. We do not want to forget our roots, so I try to make sure we stay close to the traditions.”

This is one of the busiest times of the year for Mrs. Gil-Rosas, who started her business, Las Gemelas (the twins, after her daughters Norma and Sonia) on the Feast of Candelaria in 1990, before Mexicans were a big presence at the market. But word soon spread among the area’s expanding Mexican community, fueling a steady growth.

Today, the stall is crammed to the ceiling with dozens of plastic boxes of assorted herbs for teas and home remedies. Display cases feature saints in all sizes, and lotions for a variety of ailments, while the counters are topped with baskets holding peppers, roasted pumpkin seeds coated with lime and salt, candies and earthenware mugs.

“The water gets cold just pouring it in the mug,” said Arcelia Gil, Mrs. Gil-Rosas’ sister, who helps at the shop. “And the seeds have a different flavor. Not like the ones made here.”

Because made-in-Mexico authenticity is especially important for religious items, the store’s inventory changes regularly to stock necessities for various feasts, from decorative flowers for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in December to candies and baked goods for the Day of the Dead in November.

“Whatever it is,” said Alyshia Galvez, an assistant professor of Latin American and Puerto Rican studies at Lehman College, “it has more value coming from Mexico, because it has the aura of the original place.”

For the statues of baby Jesus — el niño Dios — the divinity is in the details. Preparations for the feast can be as intricate as those for a child’s baptism, in some cases complete with a godmother.

Check out the rest. And Happy Candlemas, y’all (one day early…)

  • Mr Flapatap

    “Nuestra Senora de la Candelaria”, patron saint of the city where I went to engineering school (Mayaguez, PR). Tradition in PR was to build bonfires; despite the wind and cold in the DC area I got wood and smores for my kids.


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