Mexican artisans hail return of Candlemas sales despite pandemic
By Ines Amarelo
Mexico City, Jan 30 (EFE).- Among hundreds of tiny hats, stockings and flower wreaths, everything arrayed specifically for customers wanting to buy garments for their Christ Child figures, Mexican artisan Carlos Contreras said that this year things will recover economically thanks to sales surrounding the traditional Candlemas celebration, a financial windfall that will allow him to pay for his son’s university studies.
Candlemas is also known as the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus Christ, and many Mexicans take this to heart by buying expensive and ornate outfits in which to clothe their Baby Jesus figures.
“We have to go out, find how to continue. We have children and we have to help them get ahead. I have a son in the university and I have to pay those expenses. We’re here at work for long hours and willingly,” the vendor at the Novedades Lucy shop told EFE.
After in January 2021, Mexico City authorities decided not to allow vendors to set up their Candlemas wares due to the massive outbreak of Covid-19 infections and deaths, now those merchants are relieved to be able to display their products once again.
“The first two weeks (of January) were a little off in sales due to the coronavirus. Yes, it affected us. And, this past year we couldn’t sell, but right now, taking the necessary measures to be able to work and not to affect third parties, it’s been coming back a bit,” said Apolinar, who has been selling garments to outfit the celebratory figures of the Baby Jesus in the area for more than 25 years, continuing with the family business.
Just like Carlos and Apolinar, thousands of people make their livelihoods from Baby Jesus accessories sales. And it’s due to this emblematic religious figure – both in Mexico and in other Latin American countries – that each February streets in the capital’s historic downtown district are crammed with garment vendors and buyers.
Customers stroll among the hundreds of street vendors’ display locations that are set up here only around the Christmas season and afterwards and the permanent stores in the area are putting on their best face for the Baby Jesus.
On Dec. 24, many families oh and ah over their figure of the Baby Jesus, commemorating his birth, but on Feb. 2 – Candlemas – when the Christmas season’s celebrations culminate with families preparing tamales and publicly display their Christ Child figures outfitted colorfully and impressively, even taking their figures to Mass in all their finery.
Many people opt to dress their Jesus figures in the traditional “ropon” – a white robe or long skirt – but others prefer to outfit their Christ Child figure to represent Plenty, Labor or Faith in Miracles, among many other themes.
Each of these various themes has its specific set of items that people buy, and that was why during EFE’s interview with Carlos numerous customers asked the price of assorted accessories, above all the straw hats, for which the Novedades Lucy establishment is well known in the area.
But this year, the theme most in evidence is that of Health.
“Because of the pandemic, they’re buying a lot of Health items, (also) Faith and Labor, and they’re also asking for a lot of Abundance,” Apolinar said.
Agreeing with Contreras, he said that the customers seem to be much happier and “relieved” this year, excited about being able to dress up their Baby Jesus figures and sharing with their friends and neighbors a day that is very special for many Mexicans.
Although many people are still very fearful about the rise in infections due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant, the streets of Mexico City are full this year and the religious faithful seem to want to give thanks to their Christ Child and ask for blessings.
“Right now, people are responding because you can go out (into public) with confidence. We already have the vaccines … I go out with more confidence, I feel that it gives me strength to join myself back with society, because we were practically hidden away,” Carlos said.
Like him, Noemi, a customer carrying in a bag her two Christ Child figures, which she has had for more than 15 years, came from the southeastern capital district of Tlahuac to buy garments for them after for two years being unable to go out to get new clothing for them due to the pandemic.
“These are roots that come from your grandparents, your parents. I have great faith in the Virgin of Guadalupe and in the children,” she said, referring to Mexico’s patron saint.
The tradition seems to be alive and well in Mexico and among the passersby there are many young people, most of them strolling around with their relatives, carrying their Christ Child figures and looking for garments in which to outfit them.
“As long as there are good parents who inculcate this in our kids, I feel that this has to continue … These things can’t ever be lost because, in addition, they also strengthen the economy a lot. I see how we … need to continue with these traditions,” Carlos said.