Fiesta de las Velas Candlelight Procession in Cosala


Danza del Jaguar

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.

Fiesta de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe

El Día de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe
December 12
The Virgin

Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patron saint of the Americas, and she is often referred to as the Queen of Mexico. Her image appeared both on the flags of the Mexican War of Independence and of the Revolutionary War. Most Mexicans pray to the Virgin of Guadalupe for their most intimate and heartfelt desires, as do many people throughout Latin America. She is seen as an indigenous saint, the saint of the Indians and the poor, someone to whom the humble may turn to ask for help. She is a symbol of pride and comfort to indigenous people of Latin America.

In Flagstaff Arizona, where I grew up, we have a parish church named La Virgen de Guadalupe. My father dearly loved the Virgin, and his funeral mass was held in that beautiful small church, with the parish priest wearing robes with the Virgin’s image. She is near and dear to my heart.

The Tradition

Guadalupe Day is today, December 12th. This year it falls on a Saturday, so the Virgin’s feast is even more festive than usual. Every woman named Guadalupe also celebrates her saint’s day today, which in Mexico is celebrated much like a birthday.

The most enjoyable tradition for me is that many children are dressed in indigenous costume. While during the rest of the year many Mexicans strive to look less Indian, on Guadalupe Day even young babies have long black braids clipped into their hair.  In Mazatlán, where we live, the emphasis is on “costume.” The clothes may not be real or even typical, but the kids are darling. Take a look at a few:

Each year on the eve of Guadalupe Day there are processions all over town. People parade her image through the streets to various churches. There is usually a midnight mass. A picture of one of the floats that is carried, holding the Virgin’s image, is below.

Then, on Guadalupe Day itself, there are masses nearly every hour on the hour from early morning. Parents bring their young children in to be blessed by the Virgin, and by the parish priest. The church is filled with gorgeous and fragrant flowers, people, and activity from the evening before Guadalupe Day to late that night. Masses are said, the Virgin’s image is front and center on the altar, and the priest blesses the children with holy water.

 All around the church and filling the plazas in front of the churches are food stands and stalls with toys and holy images, as well as numerous bands playing, creating a very festive atmosphere. It’s a great day for photographers, as many of them set up studios around the cathedral with images of the Virgin and props such as donkey-drawn carts. Parents and grandparents pay them to take photographs of their costumed children on this important day.

The Story, or The Legend

Saturday December 9, 1531, 10 years after the fall of the Aztec empire to Spanish forces, a young girl of about 15 years of age appeared to a 57 year old Indian man (Juan Diego, born Cuauhtlatoatzin) while he was walking in the mountains just north of Mexico City. He frequently walked three and a half hours to church in bare feet, and was doing so when he saw the girl. By the words she used and the message she conveyed, Juan Diego knew her to be the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The Virgin addressed Juan Diego in his native Nahuatl language, and asked him to speak to the local Catholic bishop, so that a church in her honor might be built on the site where they’d met (Tepeyacac, Capilla del Cerrito). The bishop, a Franciscan Spaniard named Fr. Juan Zumarraga, is said to have received and listened to Juan Diego’s story, but did not believe him. Juan Diego returned to Tepeyacac, apologized to the Virgin, explained he had done what she requested, and asked that she please enlist the assistance of someone with more stature than he to talk to the bishop. The girl told Juan Diego to return to the bishop the next day, which he did.

The following day, after Sunday Mass, Juan Diego again secured an audience with the bishop. The bishop asked him to explain his story in more detail this time, and sent Juan Diego away telling him to bring him a sign to prove his story. Juan Diego walked home and met the Virgin on the way, telling her this latest news. She asked him to return to her in the morning, and she would give him the sign.

On Monday Juan Diego did not return to visit the Virgin, because his uncle, Juan Bernardino, had fallen gravely ill. On Tuesday morning before dawn Juan Diego set out walking to town to call the priest, to provide the last rites to his uncle. He did his best to avoid the site where he saw the Virgin, so as not to be delayed in his quest to get the priest quickly for his uncle. Nonetheless, the Virgin saw him. She assured him that his uncle would be cured of the disease and would not die from it. She told Juan Diego to climb to the top of the hill where they had met, and to cut the unusual flowers that he would find there. Juan Diego did, gathering in his cape (tilma) many different types of beautiful and fragrant Rosas de Castilla from the bishop’s native Spain, in full bloom during a time of freezing weather.

When Juan Diego finally was able to appear before the bishop, he opened his tilma to show the bishop the flowers, and there on the fabric to everyone’s surprise was also imprinted the image of the Virgin! The bishop this time agreed to build a temple in the Virgin’s honor at the site where she appeared in Tepeyacac.

The following day, Tuesday December 12, the bishop and his staff accompanied Juan Diego to the site of the apparition, so that they could know where to build the temple. Once they arrived, Juan Diego asked to be excused in order to visit his uncle who had been ailing, and make sure his Uncle Bernardino was healthy. The bishop and his entourage made the journey with Juan Diego. When they arrived at the home of Juan Bernardino, they found him to be healthy and happy. He reported to the group that he had been cured when the Virgin visited him, and that she had told him her name was the Holy Mary of Guadalupe.

The above story is based on the Nican Mopohua, or Huei Tlamahuitzoltica, written in Nahuatl, the Aztec language, by the Indian scholar Antonio Valeriano around the middle of the sixteenth century. 
Unfortunately the original of his work has not been found. A copy was first published in Nahuatl by Luis Lasso de la Vega in 1649. Its cover is shown here:

Nearly 500 years after the Virgin’s appearance, Juan Diego’s cactus-cloth tilma shows no signs of decay, and the image of the Virgin remains. 25 Popes have honored her, and in 1999 Pope John Paul II declared December 12 a liturgical holy day for the continents of the Americas. 18-20 million people per year make the pilgrimage to her basilica.

More information on the story can be found in English, Spanish or Portuguese:

Also you can read more at: