*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 7th of December 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.

It is the 7th of December, and thus let me be the first to wish you a very happy Day of the Little Candles- or… “Feliz Día de las Velitas”! This marks the beginning of the Christmas season in Colombia. Let’s see what this day is all about and what it tells us about an expression of Christmas and Christian piety in South America.

This holiday- the Day of the Little Candles) dates back to the middle of the 19th century when the doctrine of Mary was being codified in the Catholic Church). We know that it was in the 19th century that among the doctrines that Catholic Church made official was the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. Once again, for the people in the back, the idea that Mary was conceived without sin. The argument is something of a metaphysical and theological doozy. The idea is that if sin is passed on to children like a common malady, it would be necessary for Mary not to have that sin. It has implications for her Assumption, as we saw. Still, for our purposes, it is essential to know how this kind of emphasis on Mary distinguished Catholicism from Protestantism in the wake of the Reformation.

During the Reformation, we also know that Catholic Europe was sending missionaries and explorers to the Americas, where Catholic Counter-Reformation theology blended with indigenous American religion to create a lasting Catholic culture across Latin America.

Consider that 40% of the world’s Catholic population lives in South America. In the 20th century, as much as 90% of the people of Latin America were Catholic, and today that number stands at a robust 70%. And of course, Pope Francis is the first pope ever elected from South America.

And it is in the Latin American Catholic world; we see an extreme emphasis on the Virgin Mary. She is the national patroness of many Latin American countries and identifies with roles previously associated with feminine indigenous gods. Anthropologists and sociologists have remarked on the strong attachment to Mary in these cultures and suggested a few ideas:

  • Perhaps Mary is seen as a kind of “gestor”- a local intermediary who deals with officials on your behalf. In a society with little social mobility, these are actual figures if you need an audience with someone on high. Mary’s role as a co-mediatrix, or as another mediator, has developed in the Western church since the Middle Ages and seems to have found fertile ground in South America.
  • Mary is also a sign of local resistance, whether centralized power or Protestant missionaries. In Latin America, where Liberation Theology has found fertile soil, the marginalized and oppressed have seen in Mary an example of one “casting down the mighty.”
  • Others have noted a level of syncretism in Latin American Catholicism and local religions with many female goddesses.
  • Lastly, when we see Marian devotion on the rise, it is worth noting that Jesus tends to take on more attributes of a conquering victor, judge, etc.… not to be crass, but when it looks like Dad is in a bad mood, you can go to Mom right?

To piggyback on yesterday’s show, various traditions have tried to venerate the Mother of God and, in doing so, have developed doctrines and practices to do so. Today in Colombia, you will find the little candles in windows across the country on the Day of the Little Candles pointing to Mary, Christ, and the beginning of the Christmas season.

The last word for today comes from John 19:

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother. His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour, the disciple took her into his own home.

28 After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 7th of December 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.

The show is produced by a man who, like Colombia native Shakira, his hips don’t lie. He is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man whose favorite candles include 16, Elton John’s “in the Wind” and “on the water” from 1977’s Pete’s Dragon. I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.