Festivals of Light

This time of year the already fine line between church and state becomes even thinner with the approach of various holidays. We have special seminars to tell us about whether it is ethical to wear a campaign button at work or how large of a gift we can accept and from whom, but nowhere are we told whether we can sing Christmas carols in a public school. As the location for our school was chosen by community leaders in conjunction with the local priest, somehow I don’t think the question will come up.

This week, we were discussing whether the students want a Christmas party and if so, what day. I noticed a small notation in my generic calendar that said “Virgin of Guadalupe (M).” What is that, I asked and was told it was a very important holiday in Mexico. Ninety percent of the students are from Mexico, so further inquiry turned up the information that the holiday is actutally celebrated not on December 12, but on the eve of the holiday, December 11, with an evening mariachi mass, lots of food and candlelight, more mariachis to pass the time, then something called mananitas, with a midnight mass to usher in the holiday. The following morning, it is traditional to sleep in.

Today I am missing something called a “novena” for the Virgin of Guadalupe. Everyone is invited to meet at the school for a processional to the nearby cathedral and an afternoon mass for the aforementioned Virgin. The word “novena” refers to the nine days before the holiday–various churches take turns hosting services on the nine days.

On Wednesday December 13, the neighborhood Lutherans, if you can find any, should be celebrating the Scandinavian light festival of an Italian saint, Santa Lucia, where small girls appear with candles on their heads and pass out cookies. Wikipedia notes that before the reform of the Gregorian calendar, this day fell on the Winter Solstice.

Proponents of strict separation of church and state sometimes question how to approach December’s religious holidays. These holidays have so much syncretization I doubt anyone knows what tradition originally went with which religion. Will any of my neighbors care that I am not Catholic or not Lutheran? I doubt it. Will not being Lutheran or Catholic keep me from celebrating with my neighbors? No way.

December 13th update: One word: polzole.
The red kind boiled with large white corn, pork and with grated raw cabbage on top, not the green kind with chicken.
Viva Guadalupe!
Que viva!
Can you say “sleep deprivation”?
And on Saturday “las posadas,” the pre-Christmas celebration starts

Posted in English as a Foreign Language, English as a Second Language, ESL, Religion. Comments Off on Festivals of Light