By Pablo Jaime Sáinz
The first thing one notices at the Verbena Guadalupana, outside Tijuana’s Cathedral, are the many images of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the smells of traditional Mexican food that surrounds the area.
A few days before December 12, Tijuana’s Cathedral, in the heart of Downtown, begins the celebration that will commemorate one of the most important events for Mexican Catholicism: The apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe to San Juan Diego on December 12, 1531.
The Cathedral’s altar is beautifully decorated with images of La Guadalupana and of San Juan Diego. An artificial waterfall recreates Mount Tepeyac, place where the event took place more than half a century ago. Red roses are present throughout the Cathedral.
The best example of this time, that officially begins on December 12, day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, is la verbena, or street carnival, that takes place in front of the Cathedral, in downtown.
La verbena, which is a tradition all over Mexico, includes, in addition to food vendors, toys, blankets, winter clothes and traditional games, such as loteria.
The December celebration is done in front of the temple, located on Avenida Niños Héroes, between calles Primera and Segunda. Authorities close access to automobiles so that people can enjoy with security.
Food vendors offer tacos, pozole, menudo, quesadillas, champurrado, churros, dulces de piloncillo and calabaza, corn prepared with mayo, cheese and chile, aguas frescas in every flavor, as well as buñuelos.
Doña Amalia Ibarra, an 80 year old lady who has a puesto in front of the Cathedral where she sells candles and images of different saints, said that la verbena is very popular among Tijuana residents.
“Here we get a lot of people,” Doña Amalia said. “They come here to buy food, to have fun in the rides, but above all, to celebrate the Holiday season.”
On December 12, Catholic churches in Tijuana will have peregrinaciones, which are a sort of parade where the faithful sing and pay tribute to Our Lady of Guadalupe. People walk through the streets with a large statue of La Guadalupana.
The midnight between December 11 and 12, fireworks and chants can be heard.
The late Pope John Paul II came to Mexico in 2002 to canonize Juan Diego. San Juan Diego became the first Indigenous saint. Many people attribute miracles to him.
Don Ramón Sanchez Leyva, who sells herbs and saints images in front of Tijuana’s Cathedral, said that San Juan Diego helps the ill.
“Here I have a small statue of Juan Diego for you to ask him for a miracle, so that he can take care of your health,” Don Ramón said. “He cures all types of diseases, but only if you ask with faith.”
Tijuana Catholics’ faith can be seen outside and inside the Cathedral these days. The Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration, which takes place on December 12, officially kicks off the Holiday season in Mexico.