The Timeless Tradition of Mexican Novenas

Throughout Mexico, a country rich in vibrant traditions and cultural celebrations, is a cherished custom known as the Mexican Novena. These nine-day religious observances are each a journey of faith and devotion. Celebrated in most cities, towns, and villages, they hold a special place in the hearts of many Mexicans, as they combine the profound devotion to Catholicism with the joyous Mexican spirit of community and celebration. The word Novena itself is derived from the Latin word “novem,” meaning “nine.”

History of Novenas:

The origins of Novenas can be traced in Spain back to the period between the Ascension of Jesus into heaven and the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles at Pentecost. During these nine days, the apostles and Mary, the mother of Jesus, gathered in the upper room and prayed, seeking guidance and strength from above.

Inspired by this biblical event, the early Christians began to adopt the practice of praying for nine consecutive days, believing that this period of focused devotion would bring them closer to God and open doors for divine intervention.

The practice of Novenas spread to Mexico through the arrival of Spanish missionaries during the 16th century. They brought with them their Catholic faith and religious practices. These missionaries sought to convert the indigenous population to Catholicism and establish a strong presence of the Church in the newly conquered territory.

As part of their efforts, the Spanish missionaries introduced the practice of Novenas to the indigenous people of Mexico. They saw the potential of Novenas as a powerful tool for deepening faith and fostering devotion among the local population. The missionaries incorporated elements of indigenous culture into the Novena tradition, making it more relatable and accessible to the indigenous people.

Local communities gathered in churches or makeshift chapels where the missionaries would lead them in prayers and devotions for nine consecutive days. These Novenas often celebrated specific saints or important events in the Catholic liturgical calendar.

Over time, the practice of Novenas became deeply rooted in Mexican Catholic spirituality. The Novenas provided a structured and intentional way for believers to express their devotion, seek intercession from saints, and prepare for important feasts and celebrations. The Novena tradition was passed down through generations and became an integral part of religious life, embraced by many of the Mexican people as a powerful and meaningful practice.

It’s important to acknowledge that historically there have been recorded instances of conflicts between indigenous communities and the Catholic Church. Some indigenous people have experienced forced conversion, discrimination, and cultural suppression by Catholic missionaries and institutions.  These communities often view Catholicism as a foreign imposition that has disrupted their cultural and spiritual autonomy.

Other indigenous communities believe that this blending of Catholicism with indigenous spirituality has resulted in a form of religious expression that combines elements of both traditions. In these cases, indigenous people may view Catholicism as continuing their ancestral practices and find comfort in the familiar rituals and symbols.

Today, Novenas continue to hold great significance in Mexican Catholicism. They are celebrated with fervor and enthusiasm, serving as a testament to the enduring influence of Spanish missionaries and the strong faith of the Mexican people. The practice of Novenas in Mexico reflects the blending of indigenous and Catholic traditions, creating a unique and vibrant expression of spirituality that is deeply ingrained in Mexican culture.

Lakeside Celebrations:

Today, Novenas have evolved into diverse forms and customs, reflecting the rich tapestry of local traditions and beliefs. In and around Lakeside, six neighboring towns annually celebrate their Novenas, paying tribute to their beloved saints, typically starting nine days before their saint’s birthday, although in some years, the dates may change slightly.

Along with the religious traditions, today’s Novenas are celebrations replete with numerous food, beverage, and souvenir stands, carnival rides, music programs, parades, sometimes charros, and, of course, the endearing sound of cohetes blasting from early morning to late night. These loud rockets frighten many dogs and are an irritation to folks trying to sleep in. Between the cohetes and the barking dogs, many expats choose to find a quieter place to stay during those nine days.

Ajijic: The patron saint of Ajijic is San Andrés (Saint Andrew). The Novena in honor of San Andrés is celebrated before his birthday, which falls on November 30th.

Chapala: The patron saint of Chapala is San Francisco de Asís (Saint Francis of Assisi). His feast day is celebrated on October 4th.

San Antonio Tlayacapan: The patron saint of San Antonio Tlayacapan is San Antonio de Padua (Saint Anthony of Padua). His feast day is celebrated on June 13th.

Jocotepec celebrates its patron saint festivities in honor of its Patron Saint the “Lord of the Mount.” The festival of the Lord of the Mount takes place on the third Sunday of January.

San Juan Cosala: The patron saint of San Juan Cosala is San Juan Bautista (Saint John the Baptist). His feast day is celebrated on June 24th.

Cajijitlan: The patron saint of Cajijitlan is San Miguel Arcángel (Archangel Saint Michael.) Although Cajijitlan’s Novena is usually held beginning on Three Kings Day, which is celebrated each year on January 6th.

There may be no better way to witness the power of faith, unity, love, and community that define the Mexican people than participating in these local Novenas. Most of the rituals take place either in the churches, on or near the plazas. To learn more about the specific dates, timing, and locations of the scheduled events, check your local Mexican and English newspapers.

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Karen BLUE
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