8) Our lady of Guadalupe
Our lady of Guadalupe is the mexican reincarnation of Virgin Mary.
Long time ago in Mexico, the Spaniards/white mexicans were in charge of both property and the Catholic church while the Mestizos and the Native Americans and in general darker skinned mexicans were the peasants and doing all the hard work, and it was basically a feudalism situation.
There was one peasant named Juan Diego, and one day when he was just going about his daily routine, he heard a voice calling for him. Thus he followed the voice, and ended up on a hilltop where the Virgin Mary appeared to him; she was pregnant and and praying and she was standing up on a dragon. Virgin Mary told Juan Diego that she wants him to build a church on this hill.
However Juan Diego was full of doubts; he argued that since he is peasant, he has no power and money, and that no one will listen to him, and thus he left. Since then, Virgin Mary appeared to him and requested this of him two more times, till Juan Diego finally decided to try to make it work.
Juan Diego went to the local priest that was in charge of the area, and told him that he has had a vision, but the priest laughed at Juan Diego and told him that Juan Diego doesn’t know what he is talking about; he is a peasant. Thus, when the Virgin Mary came to him one more time, he told her that he was sorry and that there is nothing he can do for her. The Virgin Mary then told Juan Diego that she’ll help him.
The Virgin Mary made a rose bush grow even though it was the middle of the winter; she told Juan Diego to pick these roses and carry them in his clothes (a serape) to go see the priest again. When Juan Diego reached the priest, he let the roses and the serape fall to the floor and somehow the image of the Guadalupana appeared. The priest then was shocked and hurried people to go build the church.
Now Juan Diego is a saint, and the Guadalupana is really really important to the mexicans.
Miriam told me this story after I asked her to tell me some stories of her hispanic culture. Miriam is an artist, and she really likes the portraits of the Guadalupana and thus why she is all the more interested in the Guadalupana. She had always knew this story growing up because her family is religious, and out of the three stories that she told me, she performed this one with the greatest enthusiasm and the outmost details.
I had always known the symbol and the image of the Guadalupana but I never knew the story behind her before. This was pretty eye opening to me, but again it is very similar to many other religious stories that involves people who were sent visions.
According to the informant, the Rougaroo is a folkloric creature who wanders Louisiana looking to attack children who have not fulfilled their Catholic duties.
What’s the Rougaroo
BW: I will tell you what’s known in the deep bayous of Lousianna is the Rougaroo. The Rougaroo is a creole mythological creature based off a bunch of different characters. Characters from African folklore, catholic folklore and Native American follore. The Rougaroo is essentially a werewolf that wanders around the dark quiet swamps of Southern Louisiana.
How did you hear of the Rougaroo?
BW: My mother used to tell me this story–about how when she was a little kid, her grandmother would talk about the Rougaroo coming to the little kids that didn’t fulfill their Lenten promises… It’s an indescribably terrifying creature. It’s faceless, uncanny. A very dark way of making kids eat fish on Fridays and stuff.
Your mother is from Lousiana?
BW: Yes, she is from LaFourche, Lousiana. L-A-F-O-U-R-C-H-E.
Interestingly, the legend of the Rougaroo is not native to Lousiana, but is a creature of European folklore. Specifically, French. However, it has traveled with high French population that lives in French Louisiana. Most likely a factor of historical colonization, what is now “French Lousiana” was originally colonized by France as “New France”. Since then, although the land is in the continental United States, there still exists some French demographics and culture. Therefore, the “Rougaroo” is a French invention (to scare the earlier generations into subscribing to Catholic practices) that spread to Louisiana through colonization of the 17th and 18th centuries.
“From the 15th of December to Christmas Eve, we have posadas. We re-enact the journey of Joseph and Mary to find a place to stay.”
The source says that his local church would hold the posadas every year. The re-enactments would take place twice a day, one performance in the morning and one in the evening. It sounds similar to the Stations of the Cross and the re-enactment of the Nativity scene. It’s all about getting into the “true spirit of Christmas,” which for the source and other church-goers was always about accepting Jesus into one’s life and being more like Jesus. It’s strange, though, because the posadas don’t feature Jesus. So maybe this tradition is more about family in general and how everyone journeys to one home on Christmas Eve to come together and celebrate the birth of Jesus.
The fact that it ends on Christmas Eve is also significant. While the most obvious reason is because Joseph and Mary “found lodging” by December 24th, the less clear reason is because of the value Latin Americans place in Christmas Eve. For other cultures, Christmas Day is the most important day. That’s when everyone gathers with their family for food and games and whatnot. But Latin Americans host what’s called Noche Buena or “The Good Night” which takes place on Christmas Eve. What most other cultures do on Christmas Day, Latin Americans do on Christmas Eve. Why? Who knows! I asked the source what he thought about this, and he said it’s because Christmas Day is for you to spend only with your immediate family rather than every cousin and great aunt and uncle.
The following family tradition/belief was told to my by the informant while talking about some of her family’s customs and traditions.
“When people get married or have children, we don’t have bridal or baby showers normally because it’s like, we think of it being bad luck because it’s something really good happening and to draw attention to that really good thing in your life is like asking for trouble, and so there’s this idea of the evil eye that’s watching and the evil eye, if it sees that you’re too happy or just ‘oh everything is just so perfect, my life is so great, I’m gonna have a new healthy baby’ or ‘I have a beautiful new marriage,’ it’s like drawing attention to that goodness is gonna make someone take it from you, and so our tradition is not to have a bridal shower for like a wedding or a baby shower… I think it stems from my grandma who’s Italian and Italian people will even wear around their neck or put on their baby’s christening robes little charms and there’s different ones; there’s like a little monkey fist, there’s a gold horn… there’s a bunch of different ones, and that’s supposed to ward off the evil eye so that even after the marriage or after the baby’s born, after these good things happen in your life, it keeps the evil eye from taking them away from you.”
The informant didn’t know what the different charms like the monkey fist or the gold horn symbolized when I asked her about it; she just knew that they were an important aspect of Italian cultural beliefs. She also mentioned that it was ironic that Italians tend to be quite Catholic (including her own family), but having lucky charms and believing in the evil eye is somewhat of a pagan custom.
The evil eye is a folk belief that’s shared amongst many different cultures, but it’s interesting to see that it even exists in Catholic culture. Maybe it’s an inconsistency in belief, or mutually exclusive from peoples’ Catholic beliefs. The informant also mentioned that if someone in her family married someone who insisted on having a baby or bridal shower, that they wouldn’t oppose it too much. So, this seems to be a loosely followed tradition, in the sense that the family prefers to follow it, but is not too strict about it if someone marrying into the family considers it an important part of their family tradition.
*Collector note: The Lamb cake in question is a cake in the shape of a lamb, not a cake made from lamb.
Informant: “In my family, we always had a lamb cake for Easter, I think this was a Central European tradition, mostly in Poland, Germany, and the Czech Republic. When I grew up in Chicago, there were a lot of German people in the neighborhood, and there were always German bakeries full of lamb cakes around Easter. The connection to Easter was that Easter was about Christ, you know, the Lamb of God. And so we would eat these lamb cakes for Easter. My mother would make it, so else sometimes we bought them in bakeries in Chicago. My aunt [M] said that her mother made lamb cakes as well. I always thought it was funny having lamb cake because we would tell people about it and people would say ‘oh, it’s like a meatloaf or something’ when really there was no lamb in it, is was just shaped like a lamb and didn’t have any meat at all. Though I know some people would sometimes hollow out the cake and put strawberry jam inside so when you cut it it looks like its bleeding [laughs]. I know other people would color their lamb cake with red food coloring to make the inside look like meat, but I always thought that would seem a bit to gory for me”
The informant is a 77 year old retired anthropologist living in Portland Oregon. Her grandparents immigrated to the United States from the Kingdom of Bohemia (in the modern day Czech Republic) in the 1890’s to escape the economic turmoil within the country in that time period. She was born and grew up in Chicago, Illinois, and studied anthropology at Stanford University, during which time she became interested in learning more about the traditions of her heritage. She has on several occasions traveled to the Czech republic to visit relatives there.
Collector’s analysis: This particular tradition is an interesting take on some very core Christian symbolism. In the Christian faith (or perhaps, more specifically in the Catholic faith), there is this idea that the religious figure Jesus Christ was sacrificed for mankind. Because of the old, pre-Christian tradition of sacrificing ‘pure’ animals for religious purposes including lamb, Jesus Christ is frequently referred to as “The Lamb of God”. Thus, there is a connection between the Easter holiday and lambs. As for why the tradition is eating a lamb shaped cake rather than an actual lamb, the most likely explanation comes from the Catholic tradition of not eating meat on religious holidays, to which Easter was no exception. It should also be noted for this reason that the Czech republic, as well as the other Countries that the informant believes this tradition originated from, were all primarily Catholic nations during the period of time in which this tradition originated. As a side note, in this collector’s opinion, these cakes are absolutely delicious!
Receive blessed chalk from priest. Above each doorway to your house, write the initials of the three Wise Men: Balthasar, Caspar, Melchior. Then you light some incense by those doors. For his family, Christmas didn’t end until the Epiphany, that’s when the Wise Men find Jesus, which was January 6th.
For Christmas and Easter, you exchange an oplatek (a more synthetic-feeling communion wafer). You’d take a piece from a plate and then go around to each of your family members and break off a piece of their’s yourself and take it, and then they’d take a piece of your’s, and you’d all wish each other well. After everybody’s exchanged and had a piece with everybody else, you eat it.
The informant participated in these rituals growing up and still participates in them now, usually in family-based groups of six or seven people, all Polish-Catholic.
The informant shared this with me in conversation.
The informant isn’t particularly religious now, so it’s interesting to me that he still participates in these deeply religious ceremonies in the presence of family. Additionally, though I’ve heard of the practice of taking communion wafers, I didn’t realize that there could be regional/event-based differences in the supposedly universal, standardized practice.
The informant is a 23-year-old undergraduate at the University of Southern California. She moved a lot when she was younger, but spent her high school years but spent her high school years in Colorado, and still returns there to visit her dad on occasion. Her family is Mexican (though only partially) and Catholic, but her grandmother is Spanish (though her family has been in America for several centuries) and is a lot more Catholic than the rest of her family. I asked the informant about anything related to luck and she told me about the closet of candles her grandmother has.
Her grandmother has a closet full of the “Mexican candles” that are unscented candles in tall glass jars that usually have some sort of religious figure, like Jesus or a saint, printed on the outside. (These are also called “novena candles”). The informant says that she cannot remember a time where her grandmother did not have these candles. Her grandmother would keep at least one lit at all times, even when the grandmother is out of the house and, as the informant put it, “created a fire hazard.” Though the informant and other members of her generation (siblings, cousins, etc.) would tease the grandmother for being so obsessive over these candles, they would help her make sure that one was lit when they were around her house. Her grandmother believes that if she keeps these candles lit, it signals God to watch over her family.
There was one instance where the informant and her cousins decided to blow the candle out as a joke. Her grandmother did not find this entertaining, and was very upset that the candle that she thought was connected to God had been blown out, meaning God was no longer looking over her family. Shortly after the candle was blown out, the informant’s grandfather called and explained that on their way to Idaho, their car had almost flipped and crashed, which had been, unbeknownst to him, the time period that the candle had been blown out. This reinforced the grandmother’s belief that the candles actually did something, and the children were discouraged from blowing out the candles ever again.
The candles physically symbolize the connection to God that is sometimes not easily felt. By using the flame of a candle to signify this connection, a simple glance at the candle can reaffirm the connection if the feeling itself is not there. This can also show the connection to others without having to actively discuss it.
“When you’re talking about someone who died, you have to do the sign of the cross after you say something, especially if you said something bad.”
My informant comes from an Irish-American Catholic family. Crossing oneself is a common gesture within this community, especially when talking of the dead. Although Catholics don’t technically believe in ghosts, the general consensus seems to be that speaking ill of the dead could lead to repercussions for the speaker. Crossing oneself could help with any negative effects of speaking ill of the dead. In addition, crossing oneself when speaking of the dead in general serves as a blessing and a way of commemorating the dead; it is a sign of respect.
“On the Christening robes of babies, they have these little charms, little golden charms. There’s a monkey fist, a bull horn, all different ones, and they’re all supposed to keep the evil eye away.”
My informant comes from a devout Italian Catholic family. Although the evil eye is not a Christian belief, it has seeped so deeply into the culture from pre-Christian folk beliefs to the extent that a modern Catholic family believes in it enough to take precautions against it harming their infants. Again, there is the idea that celebration can draw the wrath of the evil eye; even a religious celebration is dangerous.
“We didn’t eat meat on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day is fine, but not on Christmas Eve. So we’d eat, like, baccala, which is salted cod. And calamari and other fish and seafood.”
My informant is an Italian Catholic. Refraining from meat on Christmas Eve is one of many cultural traditions practiced by this group. There are certain traditional fish dishes prepared, including baccala. My informant told me that she doesn’t particularly like baccala, and neither does the rest of her family. However, they make and eat it every year because it is traditional to do so.