According to ancient Jewish tradition, a new mother had to be purified forty days after giving birth, and present her baby at the temple, so, shortly after December 25 was fixed as Christmas Day by the Roman Catholic Church, sometime in the late 4th Century, the second day of February was marked as the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus and of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This date was easily accepted by new Christians in Rome, due to the correspondence to their already well-established dies Februatus purification dates; small animals and birds, such as turtle doves, were a mandatory offering, but this practice was eventually abandoned, and candles were incorporated instead, as a symbol of purity and new life. For this reason, the feast became also known as Candlemas, or Día de la Candelaria, in Spanish.
In a similar way in Mexico, after the Spanish conquest in the 16th Century, Día de la Candelaria came to replace the Pre-Hispanic ceremonies connected to the earth (for fertility) and meteorological events (for abundance). The midwinter days marked by the winter solstice and the spring equinox (in the Northern Hemisphere, between late December and the third week in March) were dedicated to the new year in the Aztec calendar, and the beginning of the agricultural season in Mesoamerica. Offerings of corn were presented to the gods for healthy and abundant crops; some aspects of these practices were incorporated to the Christian Candlemas, such as the blessing of seeds for the coming planting season, and the offering and sharing of corn-based food and beverages, such as tamales and atole.
As I have mentioned, nowadays, Día de la Candelaria celebrations involve church services for the blessing of candles and figurines representing baby Jesus, with the corn-based foodstuffs shared later, at a meal usually hosted by the person(s) who found figurines representing baby Jesus, hidden in the special bread that was served on Epiphany Day (January 6).
For this Día de la Candelaria, I have gathered all the recipes for tamales that I have posted to date, as well as my recipe for atole (corn-based beverage) in three different flavours. I am also sharing my recipe for Mexican style hot chocolate, since for many years now, there has been a propensity to serve hot chocolate along with, or instead of, atole; this will not affect the tradition of corn offerings, as long as tamales are the main item on the table, as in the photo at the top of this post, showcasing a mug of frothy hot chocolate with an assortment of sweet and savoury tamales. Click on highlighted text or images, below, for recipes.
Mexican Style Hot Chocolate
My sister in Mexico just made a batch of tamales for Candlemas, following my recipe for Assorted Savoury Tamales! In the photos below, she had arranged the tamale wraps in a steamer basket (left), and then closed with the lid to steam on the stove top (right):
Below, tamales in their corn husk wraps after cooking (photo left), and an assortment of fillings (photo right, from left to right) of bean & cheese (frijol y queso), chicken & green sauce (verde), and chicken & red mole (rojo):