Wandering around the market area of Mexico City we were fascinated by numerous shop windows displaying doe-eyed dolls elaborately dressed in various costumes, many identified as the different saints. We were similarly mystified to see adults walking around the city and lovingly carrying these beautifully attired “babies” as if they were flesh and blood, and proud to be photographed with their bundle. In the market there were stalls laden with garments especially for these dolls.
A little research revealed the dolls were Ninos Dios a custom linked to Candelaria – or Candlemas – which our visit coincided with. Family households, or those who still follow this tradition in the increasingly secular society, own a Ninos Dios, or Child God venerating the Baby Jesus, a tradition imported by the Spanish but subsequently incorporating indigenous beliefs creating a uniquely Mexican custom. Not only are the Ninos Dios dressed as various saints, but local costumes get a look-in too. The custom decrees a new outfit each year, hence the well-stocked market stalls.
For those who’ve forgotten their Sunday School lessons Candlemas commemorates the presentation of the Baby Jesus at the temple. It takes place on 2 February, the 40th day of the Christmas-Epiphany period. On Candelaria Mexicans attend mass, taking their Ninos for blessing, later returning it to its safe-keeping place until the following year. Mass is followed by a feast breakfast with special corn-based steamed tamales stuffed with traditional fillings. Our diligent tour guide organised for our hotel to serve the feast which included an interesting non-sweet hot chocolate drink. The original hot chocolate?