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Wednesday, 12/12, was the Virgen de Guadalupe’s birthday. At midnight (that morning), I was at the church in Llano Park to sing the birthday song, “Las Mañanitas” to her. About a thousand other people were there as well. There were so many of us that the church had taken out all of the pews and had prepared four lanes to control the traffic, especially during the misa (mass) that took place before the singing.

The celebration was open to all — including all musicians wanting to play for the image of the Virgen.

Outside the church, there was a fair that featured games that involved shooting and ring tosses and rides on a bull, miniature roller coasters and bumper cars (among other things).

Also outside the church were photo booths where families can have their children who, if they’re boys, are dressed as Juan Diego (the person who is believed to have spoken to the Virgen), and, if they are girls, they are dressed in traditional dresses (not as the Virgen). Upon first glance, this is reminiscent of Santa in the mall. On second glance, it is more meaningful and tied to religious tradition not to mention less scary for children. No one was crying; they wanted to climb up on the burros or sit in the beautiful scenery.

So, back in the church. This is a fairly foreign place to me, and the Catholic church is even more perplexing. I noticed that people had brought gifts for the Virgen’s bday. There were rose bushes, flowers, and other wrapped gifts. And, part of me felt empty-handed. Who shows up at a birthday celebration without a gift?

And, then two people began spritzing the crowd with holy water. All I could see was that a young man and women seemed to be repeatedly on the verge of tossing a bouquet. And then I realized what they were doing. I really need to be more familiar with some of these rituals.

I was pleased, however, when I knew when to greet the people standing around me with a handshake and: “Paz.” I also was delighted that I understood the message of the mass: “Necesitas creer y pues puedes entende” (You need to believe and then you can understand). There is hope that I will understand more after all.

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