It occurred to me that I had never written in my blog about an experience I had in the Sierra de Puebla just before Christmas in December, 2010, although I had written briefly about this in my Masks and Puppets book. On the evening of December 7, 2010, I was a passenger in a car driven by my excellent guide and teacher, Carlos Moreno Vasquez. We were traveling from the State of Puebla over small country roads (taking a short cut) into the town of El Espinal, Veracruz. The night was pitch black, but one occasionally saw a house by the side of the road, briefly lit by the car’s headlights. Then suddenly there were burning candles by the side of the road. In the United States, of course, we suddenly see flares by the road’s edge, signaling some sort of hazard or accident, but this was obviously quite a different thing. These patches of light grew more frequent as we drove into the center of the town, a pattern which was beautiful and mysterious. On inquiry, I learned that we had happened upon an ancient Christian tradition that was only observed on the evening of December 7, each year—the celebration of El Niño Perdido (the lost child). The celebration refers to a story in Luke 2:41-52, when the 12 year old Jesus was apparently lost for three days, or at least his earthly parents, Mary and Joseph, had no idea where he had gone. Finally they found him in the Temple, in Jerusalem. In this local Mexican Tradition, the candles light the paths for families or groups to search, and the searchers converge on the Church, where they find a replica of Christ made of wood or plaster.
Suddenly we saw lights by the road.
“Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travellers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour.”
In the town, the candles were also placed on roadside window sills.
As you may have seen from the Biblical quotation, this episode in the Life of Christ is far removed from his initial appearance on earth. I did not learn exactly why it is celebrated in this town during the period leading up to Christmas, when it was originally associated with the Jewish Passover (April 8- 16). The acts of pilgrimage and searching do mimic the earlier searching by Shepherds and Wise Men at the time of Christ’s birth.
It turns out that there are other “lost boy” traditions in Mexico which apparently don’t refer to Christ.
In December 2014 I did devote two posts to dances in the Sierra de Puebla that frankly center on stories and teachings about Christ’s birth—
and on December 22, La Danza de Lakakgolo.
In later posts, from July 10 through September 11, 2017, I wrote about La Pastorela, the Shepherd’s Play, in Mexico.
Next week- what will I write about?