We have long loved the small town of Cosalá, the first and very well deserved “Pueblo Mágico” (2005) of Sinaloa. It’s history is well preserved in its lovely architecture as well as the lifestyle of its people. This year we were able to take time off work to attend the Fiesta de las Velas, which is held every December 11th, on the eve of Virgin of Guadalupe Day.
The candlelight procession was an absolute delight! It was not a “spectacle” or performance, as so many of these events become in larger cities. Cosalá’s homage to the Virgen is home-spun loveliness. The procession is a tradition that dates back over 300 years, and is the only event of its kind in Mexico or throughout the world! As Cosalá is only 2-1/2 hours from Mazatlán, we highly recommend you make the journey!
Mouse-over any photo to view it larger or see a slideshow, and be sure to scroll down to read the full post—there are lots of pictures in this one, as so much happened in such a very short time!
People all over town began lighting candles at dusk, setting them out in front of their homes and businesses, along the curb, on window ledges, and atop rock walls. We saw a wide variety of different candles: tapers, candles in glass, votives in glass, candles in plastic cups, and even beautiful Virgen de Guadalupe votives, so we supposed that each family buys its own candles to put out on this very special night.
As soon as the candles are lit, the children, of course, begin to have fun with them. What little boy can resist a burning flame? I very much enjoyed watching these three boys light sparklers from the candles their mother had just lit, squealing in delight. The entire night was just a joy.
At 7:00 pm, the electric lights in the city went dark, and the entire pueblo took on the lovely glow of candlelight. It was truly a sight to behold! The streets were nearly empty except for those waiting for the procession to reach them, so they could join in. The winding streets lined with glowing candles, street lights draped and shaded, it was truly magical.
As we walked around the pueblo, marveling at the beauty, we noticed a miniature Christmas village displayed in a window. The lady of the house quickly came out to invite us inside. This very humble-looking-from-streetside home was huge and wonderful inside! And its family was so very hospitable! We entered into a courtyard with a life-sized nativity, through to the living room with a huge Christmas tree and the village we had first noticed, past a large statue of the Virgin to another living room with a tree hung from the ceiling, out to a back courtyard that was strung with beautiful twinkle lights. Later on, we met the ladies of the house again during a procession.
The procession wound around town, lasting perhaps an hour and a half, growing larger and larger as more and more people joined in. The procession is most definitely inter-generational: grandmothers and children, husbands and wives, groups of teenaged friends or middle-aged women, all walking with candles in hand. This event was most definitely a photography challenge! In addition to low light, you have constantly moving targets! How to possibly capture candlelight and people moving? I’m sure many have done better than I did, but at least you’ll get an idea of the beauty and preciousness of it all, I hope.
The painting of the Virgin is held high, on the shoulders of local men, as she is fêted. In addition to the main image in the procession, there are of course images of the Virgen all over town to celebrate her on her special day.
People in the procession were singing and praying as they made their pilgrimage through town, from one church to another and back. There were also two groups of dancers in the procession. One group of mostly young girls carried a candle in each hand and danced in a choreographed way each time La Guadalupana was sung. They had their heads covered and were dressed in gowns, to represent the Virgen, I believe. The drummer accompanying this group was a boy dressed in a shirt with a beautiful image of the Virgen on the front.
The second dance group of the evening were the teenagers who performed the Danza del Jaguar, native to Cosalá. The young men act as hunters, while the young women act the role of jaguars, hiding, running from, and occasionally leaping at the young men. They play these terrific instruments called rotares: hollow so they’ll reverberate, with a leather cord attached that is pulled to create the sound of a jaguar roaring. Accompanying the dancers was a small band, in the back of a pickup truck, with several drums, more rotares, and other percussion instruments. This group walked immediately in front of the Virgin, and we were told that their dance clears the way of any bad spirits, cleansing and purifying the route for today’s honored guest.
The following morning as we were walking through the plaza, we noticed two of the jaguar dancers from the night before. The young woman, Maribel, had such striking eyes that we immediately recognized her. She was very congenial and outgoing, and was so very pleased when I asked her to tell us the story of the jaguar dance.
The procession ended at one of the town’s churches, where an outdoor Mass had been set up. The painting of the Virgen was proudly displayed on the altar, and Father Nahúm Villalobos said a heartfelt Mass attended by hundreds who crowded into the yard and filled the church proper to overflowing.
During the Mass, Victor Franco debuted a new song he had written for the town, Cosalá Bendita. We felt very privileged to be able to hear it as it was performed for the first time ever, in the presence of so many Cosaltecos who seemed incredibly moved by its words and melody.
After Mass concluded the outgoing Mayor of Cosalá, Mario Cuauhtémoc Padilla, and Francisco Córdova, State Secretary of Tourism, announced that the town had just officially named Fiesta de las Velas as a cultural heritage event. Next steps will be to seek state, then national, and finally, hopefully U.N. designation for this gorgeous event. I can not imagine it will stay small, sweet and uncrowded for many more years.
Following that ceremony was a singing performance, which culminated in singing Las Mañanitas to the Virgin.
Our friends Sandra and Hector took us on this wonderful trip. They seemed to know absolutely everyone in town, so we felt so very welcome, and our friends Jeanette and Emery joined us as well. I will later do a post on the town itself, and our adventures the day following the procession, but let me leave this post here. It is definitely worth planning for next year. There are good restaurants in Cosalá, and several categories of hotels as well. I’d recommend you go up and stay two nights, as on the 12th there were fireworks, a town fair, and a children’s parade.
I put together a two minute video of the procession, including a bit of both dances and the prayers. You can view that below.