For Nancy Hernandez, 17, celebrating Our Lady of Guadalupe has been an annual tradition since she was in preschool.
At ages 3 and 4, she said, her parents would dress her up in costumes for the Dec. 12 feast. For the past several years, she and her mother have participated in a torch run from Loris to St. James Church in Conway. She is also an altar server at the Guadalupe Mass, held as part of a week-long celebration at St. James.
“My family has always treasured Our Lady of Guadalupe, and she is a person that has always been there for me. I have never been alone. During my bad times, I can always count on her to be there for me. Even my own mother says I look like her, and I kind of believe it. Our Lady gives me the feeling of being safe and secure, like being with my mother even when I’m not really with her,” Hernandez said.
The Socastee high school junior joined hundreds of others across the state to celebrate the feast day.
In 1531, according to tradition, Mary appeared to Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, a poor young Aztec man, near Mexico City. Our Lady of Guadalupe has since become the patron of Mexico and the Americas. Juan Diego was canonized in 2002.
Events big and small took place at many parishes, drawing people of all ages who honored Guadalupe by singing, walking in processions, praying the rosary, eating traditional foods, and watching dramas depicting her appearance to Juan Diego. In many places, children dressed as Mary, St. Juan Diego or others associated with the tradition.
Other participants said the feast day has always been a treasured part of their lives.
Brianda Zuniga, 21, a senior at the University of South Carolina-Aiken, said she started performing Mexican dances for festivals and church celebrations when she was 5 years old.
She and her sister joined other women from St. John of the Cross Church in Batesburg-Leesville to perform in front of about 450 people at the Guadalupe celebration there on Dec. 9.
Dancing for Guadalupe, she said, is a unique experience because the performance is dedicated to the Blessed Mother.
“My sister and I were brought up in the faith, and it’s a celebration for us every year,” Zuniga said. “It means a lot for us when we get asked to dance for this feast. We don’t worry about others and what they think of what we’re doing. It’s something we like to do, and it’s in honor of Our Lady.”
Saluda resident Nestor Reyes, 26, first danced for a Guadalupe celebration at St. John of the Cross five years ago, and said his dancing is a gift to Mary.
“My dance is a way to show some respect for her, and it is an offering to her as well,” Reyes said. “I feel nervous, but I also give thanks to her.”
At St. Thomas the Apostle Church in North Charleston, about 750 people woke up early Dec. 12 for a 5:30 a.m. mañanitas celebration, according to Edgar Angel, one of the event organizers.
Mañanitas is an annual Guadalupe occurrence, often held in the early morning hours of the feast day, that involves singing songs in tribute to Mary. Angel said it was impressive for that large a crowd to turn out early on a weekday that was also a work and school day for many.
Later, about 500 attended an evening celebration that included a procession featuring all the flags of Latin America, Mass, music, and dinner.
Large celebrations were also held at St. Gregory the Great Church in Bluffton and St. Mary of the Angels Church in Anderson. Also, about 200 people turned out in Dillon for Mass, guitar music and a meal.