Jan 6 2011

Celebrating Three Kings Day

Two CFCA projects explain the Three Kings Day celebrations taking place on Jan. 6:

Mexico

In most parts of Mexico, they believe that the Three Kings, or the Magi ó traditionally Melchor, Gaspar and Baltazar ó visit the homes at dawn on Jan. 6 to leave gifts for children who have behaved well throughout the year.

Children write letters to the Magi asking for the toys they would like. This tradition is based on the Biblical passage where the three kings brought the child Jesus gold, incense and myrrh (Matthew 2:11).

Kings Cake

Children in Cuernavaca, Mexico, wait to partake of the traditional ìRosca de Reyes,î or Kings Cake ñ a bread with sugar and crystallized fruit.

Days before Jan. 6, parents buy gifts and hide them from the children so they are surprised and believe the kings brought the gifts.

On Jan. 6, the children wake up early, impatient and thrilled to find the gifts left for them. The children play with their toys all day long with their siblings and friends.

Families, offices, schools, neighbors, friends ñ in short, everyone ñ partakes of the traditional ìRosca de Reyes,î or Kings Cake, which is a bread in the shape of a ring decorated with sugar and crystallized fruit.

Various small plastic dolls about an inch and a half long are hidden inside to represent the baby Jesus.

Each person cuts his or her own piece of cake, and those who find a doll inside must bring tamales to everyone present on Feb. 2, the day when Mexican families bring the statue of baby Jesus to the church for a blessing.

According to the Bible, that is the day when Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the temple.

This tradition is practiced primarily in urban and suburban communities, because families in rural areas do not have the economic means to do so.

-Written and edited by: Daniel Luna, Alicia Garza Ramos and Angelica Lozada at the CFCA project in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Martha Meireles, Cuernavaca project coordinator, sent us this report.

Dominican Republic

The celebration of Three Kings Day is one of the biggest traditions in the Dominican Republic.

The celebration starts Jan. 4 when children write letters for the three kings describing the gifts they want and put them in Christmas trees, on beds or give them to their parents.

On Jan. 5 in the afternoon, children find grass, water and food, and place them under their beds for the camels and wise men to eat and drink and eat when they visit at night.

On this day, children go to bed earlier than usual. Once the children are asleep, parents place the gifts under their bed or at the Christmas tree and take the food away to let the children know the three kings visited them.

At dawn, you can hear in the street whistles, laughter and the sound of bikes, children running and playing with their toys after opening the gifts.

The celebration is extended to the community because the children visit their neighbors to show them their gifts, and the neighbors usually give them other gifts left for them by the wise men.

This tradition turns a normal day into a magical day and offers an unforgettable memory that will last all their lives.

This beautiful tradition is full of faith and love holding a magical world of fantasies uniting families and communities.

-Nelson Figueroa, CFCA project coordinator in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, sent us this report.

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Dec 12 2010

‘Mother of all Mexican Catholics’: Feast Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe

Mexicans celebrate the Feast Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe on Dec. 12, beginning one day before in the shrines of our Lady of Guadalupe or the chapels that bear her name. There are Masses, confessions, dances and readings of the story of her appearances on Mexican soil.

Here is a Q-and-A with the CFCA project in MÈrida about the feast day.

In MÈrida it is a tradition that at the shrine of Saint Christopher, pilgrims are received a month before from all corners of the state of Yucat·n, neighbor states, guilds, schools, companies and diverse institutions. There is also an open air dance all night long on Dec. 11.

I have been told that some people participate in a pilgrimage to MÈxico City to celebrate at the Basilica of Guadalupe. Can you tell me about this?

The pilgrimages are carried out by groups with torches, families and even entire towns, who arrive at the basilica, to ask or give thanks for favors from the Virgin, or as a promise from a family tradition (sickness, births, etc.).

Do any members of the CFCA community participate in these pilgrimages?

People from the CFCA community participate in these pilgrimages, walks or Masses. It is a celebration in all of MÈxico for Catholic families on this day.

Virgin of Guadalupe

CFCA scholar Jes˙s Federico displays a picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

The pilgrimages vary, depending on the distance from the start to the final place. It can be 1 day and up to 15 days for the long ones. All are supposed to arrive on Dec. 12 to hear Mass and receive the benediction and then return.

Those pilgrimages are done on foot, on bicycles or running on one’s knees, depending on the promise offered. The Virgin of Guadalupe reminds us the promise of the mother of God to be with us in difficult moments.

She presented herself as a mestiza, with indigenous and Spanish characteristics, to include everyone under her protection.

Any other information or commentary that you would like to add?

The Virgin of Guadalupe is the mother of all Mexican Catholics by tradition. There is a faith and fervor that exists within us for her that is inexplicable. To us, she is miraculous and if you ask her for something and you have faith, we are sure that she will honor you.

Jes˙s Federico is a 15-year-old CFCA scholar. He is in the first semester of computer science and also serves in the Church as an altar boy and catechist.

Why do you participate in this pilgrimage?

It is a way of showing my faith and gratitude to the Virgin of Guadalupe, and it motivates me in my personal life to move ahead, and it is a family and community tradition.

Since when have you been participating in this pilgrimage? What is your route and distance covered?

This is the second year that I am going to participate. We go from the community where I live with a group of 30 people: family and friends.

It is about 180 kilometers (112 miles) away and we are going in a group, in which every person runs for about 20 minutes and then is replaced, and that is how we cover all the distance.

On the way we meet a lot of people who offer food to the whole group as part of their offerings to the Virgin. They give us water in the communities we pass along the way and they treat us really well.

We are always careful because we could be prone to highway accidents.

It is an unforgettable experience and all because of our dear Virgin of Guadalupe.

During the trips we sing chants to the Virgin and everyone takes offerings and promises to be fulfilled in the future. Also, a few days before the trips we have meetings in the Church where they explain to us the significance of the pilgrimage and about the love that we should have for our Virgin of Guadalupe.

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Sep 27 2010

2010: The year of the bicentennial

Many Latin American countries where we work celebrated their bicentennials this year: Colombia, July 20; El Salvador, Sept. 15; Mexico, Sept. 15-16; and Chile, Sept. 18. Here is a compilation of field reports about what the bicentennial means for CFCA communities in Mexico. This year, the rising violence from drug trafficking has unfortunately affected some of the celebrations.

Mateo and his grandchildren

ìItís good to remember the heroes who gave us freedom, but it isnít good they spend so much money on the celebrations and parties when there is so much need and poverty. Instead of spending money on parties, they should perform services for those in need.î
ó Sr. Mateo, grandfather of the sponsored children pictured: Carlos, Gabriel and Luis Antonio

Note: The ìGrito of Independenceî is a traditional ritual performed every independence day. The Mexican president appears in the ZÛcalo, or central square of the capital, and shouts, ìViva, Mexico!î The crowd responds, ìViva!î

Q: Can you tell us about Mexicoís Independence Day?

A: [Cuernavaca] The bicentennial of Mexico celebrates the beginning of the rebellion against the Spanish colonial system. 2010 is a big year in Latin America. In 1810, local rebellions were taking place against the Spanish in diverse locations throughout Latin America.

A: [Guadalupe] The period known as Independence began, strictly speaking, on Sept. 16, 1810, when Miguel Hidalgo gave the ìGrito de los Dolores,î or ìCry of the Sorrowfulî and ends Sept. 27, 1821, with the arrival of the ìEjercito Trigarante,î or ìArmy of the Three Guaranteesî to the city of Mexico. The idea behind this revolutionary movement was to free the people from Spanish rule and throw off the viceroyalty. This phase ended the colonial period of Mexico.

Q: How is the country celebrating?

A: [Santa Catarina] The country celebrated with large parties: at the national level in ZÛcalo Plaza, in the Avenida Paseo de la Reforma and in the Monumento del Angel de la Independencia. Then locally, each city and town had the Grito of Independence and public festivals. In the ZÛcalo, President Calderon performed the Grito of Independence, after which followed fireworks for more than a half hour in one festival.

A: [Cuernavaca] We are celebrating with many activities, many of them cultural and civic. There will be parades, theatrical representations of the historical events, school festivals, concerts, dancers, fairs, etc.

A: [Guadalupe] There is a bicentennial torch that will travel through the 32 states of Mexico. The entire country will celebrate the military parade they have every Sept. 16. Finally, the government has created a web page devoted to the bicentennial.

Q: Are you planning special activities for the sponsored members and their families? If yes, please describe them.

Yesira, a sponsored child in Mexico

Yesira, a sponsored child, joined her grandparents for dinner on Sept. 15 and watched the bicentennial celebrations on television. They continued celebrating until early Sept. 16.

A: [Cuernavaca] The communities where the sponsored members live are planning Mexican nights ó parties with different Mexican music, dance and food organized by some families or neighbors, but most of the activities are organized by schools, municipalities or local authorities.

A: [Guadalupe] On Sept. 17, 2010, the CFCA community in Hogar Quinta Manuelita will gather for a public street party, with people bringing traditional Mexican snacks.

Q: How have the celebrations been affected by the news reports about drug-related violence in certain areas of Mexico?

A: [Cuernavaca] There are two sides: one in favor of celebrating Mexican liberation from the Spanish conquistadors and honoring the martyrs and heroes; and another side against the celebration in the midst of violence that has occurred.

A: [Merida] Although itís very calm in Merida, the heaviness is from what people hear in the news. There is fear that at any moment in the near future, this instability, this violence, can reach Merida.

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May 24 2010

Lupita’s letters

By Patricia DePra, CFCA sponsor. Patricia visited Lupita on a mission awareness trip to Mexico Oct. 2008, and she sent us this reflection of her sponsorship after meeting Lupita.

Lupita and PatriciaI’ve been sponsoring Maria Guadalupe (Lupita) since she was four ñ now she’s thirteen. Eight years!! I hadn’t realized that it had been that long.

In those eight years, I fell in love, received tenure, married, became pregnant, left my job, had and lost my daughter (Dec 24-26, 2001), survived a very turbulent marriage, divorced, changed jobs twice more, and moved, let’s see ñ from Massachusetts to Buffalo, to the Finger Lakes (NY), back to Buffalo, to Mississippi, to Pittsburgh.

I always had a comfortable place to sleep, and whatever I wanted to eat, but emotionally, I was a mess, and I coped by burying myself in work. Throughout all these years, Lupita’s letters came, always filled with love, always with a drawing to be posted on my fridge or near my desk. I’ve saved every one of those letters and drawings. She wrote simply, beautifully, and from the heart.

There was always a little something extra in her writing ñ a touch of sweetness and genuine love, love for her family and for God that shone through the words to touch my heart and put a tear in my eye. Even so, it didn’t really sink in what this sponsorship, and I, really meant to Lupita. I’d come to think of myself as unimportant, in a way, and on the darkest days, perhaps even unworthy of having a daughter. It brought me a great deal of comfort knowing that my donation was helping such a sweet girl to be in school, to have better nutrition and health care, and more.

Patricia and Lupita eating lunch together.I am ashamed to admit that my letters to her were very few and far between. I didn’t realize that, while I was wrapped up in my own feelings, piling up the work to keep from thinking too much, numbed with fatigue, and subsequently postponing letters to her for months, that I was denying Lupita the warmth that she so openly shared with me. She always ended her letters with a “God bless you,” and “I love you,” but until I met her in person, I hadn’t realized just how much I mean to her, how important my letters were to her, and how full of love and gratitude our sponsored children, elderly and their families truly are.

It’s more than a donation, it’s a relationship, it’s dignity, it’s larger than words. I felt (and still feel) very humbled, and I am convinced that this is what living in God’s love is all about.

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Nov 2 2009

Dia de los Muertos

By Enrique Espinosa, Sponsor Services Department

In Mexico, it is customary to honor our beloved family members who have gone before us by celebrating Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). Every Nov. 1, Mexicans celebrate the passing of children (12 years and younger). This is more of a private ceremony.

Nov. 2 is the traditional Dia de los Muertos, which people celebrate by setting up an altar in the Church or the family’s home, depending on the community tradition. On the altar, they place the deceased’s photo, their favorite foods (including fruits, vegetables, hot chocolate, pan dulce, tamales, pulque, atoli, etc.) and flowers. Then the family prays the rosary and a novena. Afterward, they play the deceased’s favorite music.

This is a joyous occasion because they are celebrating the lives of their loved ones, and the fact that they have moved on to a better, eternal life, sharing in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Day of the Dead fills a void
By Sheila Myers, Communications Department

The loss of a loved one leaves a hole in your heart. With time, you get used to living with this void, but occasionally, somethingñan aroma, a song, a situationñreminds you of the person and for a second, the hole closes and you feel oddly comforted.

Years ago, my husband and I discovered the Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday when you lovingly remember departed relatives and friends.

The holiday has its roots in the Aztec culture. The ancient Aztecs embraced death and viewed it as a continuation of life. They believed that life was a dream and only in death did they become truly awake. Day of the Dead for the Aztecs was a month-long celebration when the dead came back to visit. After the Spanish conquest, the ritual evolved and spread to other cultures. It is now celebrated to coincide with All Souls Day in the Catholic faith.

For the Day of the Dead, Mexicans build elaborate altars for their deceased. They fill it with pictures and mementos of the deceased and decorate with colorful flowers, candles, brightly painted skull masks and whimsical skeleton figurines called ìcalacas.î

When I learned about Day of the Dead, I welcomed the opportunity to put our departed loved ones front and center in our home, to talk about them with our children and to reflect on the essence of their lives.

So in early October, we gather photos of our deceased relatives and set them out in the living room. Our display is plain and simple, unlike the beautifully adorned altars I have seen. It lacks the favorite food and drink of our departed family. We donít play their favorite music or burn incense. But it serves the same purpose.

When I pass by the display, their faces call to me. I stop and reflect, remembering them and how their presence shaped my life. And for a brief moment, the hole is closed.

CFCA celebrated Dia de los Muertos at our headquarters in Kansas. Employees were invited to bring in photos and mementos of their departed loved ones. Below you can see a couple of photos of our altar. We would like to invite you to share some memories of your deceased loved ones with us in the comments section.

CFCA's Dia de los Muertos altar CFCA's Dia de los Muertos altar
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Aug 11 2009

August isn’t back-to-school month for everyone

As U.S. students prepare for the onset of school, students in other countries have already taken mid-terms.

That’s right. For students in many countries where CFCA works, school does not start in August or September.

The school year in Central America started in January or February. Those lucky children are only two months away from the end of school. Schoolchildren in India and the Philippines are already into their third month of the school year. And students in Kenyaówell, they follow the British system and attend school all year, with long breaks at the end of each quarter.

Find the school calendar for your friend on the graph below.

School calendar

Related links
Time for school

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Jul 2 2009

Celebrating freedom

On the Fourth of July, Americans will gather to celebrate Independence Day with fireworks, parades and picnics. Although the United States and the countries CFCA partners with do not celebrate independence on the same date, we share many customs and events.

In Central America, most countries celebrate their independence on Sept. 15 with parades and music. The running of the Central American Freedom Torch from Guatemala to Costa Rica, taking a total of 14 days, reenacts the news of their independence spreading through Central America.

South Americans celebrate with large celebrations, flying flags, parades, fireworks and feasting. In India, all cities have Flag Hoisting Ceremonies run by politicians and other officials. Indian schoolchildren gather to sing songs and watch the hoisting of the flag.

Under colonization, Haitians were forbidden to eat soup, a meal reserved for the upper classes. Now on Independence Day, it is traditional to eat soup to demonstrate the equality of all citizens.

People of the Philippines celebrate their independence with ceremonies, historic exhibitions and memorial events. Festivities begin with a flag-raising ceremony and parade in the historic city of Cavite, where Filipinos first proclaimed their independence.

We would like to encourage you to research how the country your friend lives in celebrates its independence. And from all of us at CFCA, we wish you a safe and wonderful Independence Day.

The Independence Days of the countries CFCA partners with are listed below.

Jan. 1
Haiti
Feb. 27
Dominican Republic
May 24
Ecuador
June 12
Philippines
June 26
Madagascar
July 5
Venezuela
July 20
Colombia
July 26
Liberia
July 28
Peru
Aug. 6
Bolivia
Aug. 15
India
Sept. 7
Brazil
Sept. 15
Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua
Sept. 16
Mexico
Sept. 18
Chile
Oct. 9
Uganda
Dec. 9
Tanzania
Dec. 12
Kenya

 

Updated July 1, 2011

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