To celebrate Hispanic Heritage month, I’m sharing a reflection on a family tradition that has made a lifelong impact. What parts of your Hispanic heritage have shaped your life?
In my Puerto Rican household, one of the most significant family values ingrained in all of us was the Catholic Faith and the fact that we would follow it. Dreading every early Sunday morning for Mass, going to prayer services with my Abuela for every group of prayer circles, and receiving five out of seven sacraments were all part of the checklist that my family expected me to complete.
Later in life, when these things seemed difficult or life got in the way, the one thing that continued to be important was the lighting of the church candles by my Abuela. She always made sure at the end of every Mass to head to the small Chapel, usually in the back of the Church, and in front of the statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Usually, the rows of lit candles would glow quietly while I watched my Abuela silently stand in prayer for minutes on end. In my mind I can still see the graceful long wooden wicks and smell of sulfur burning reverently at the feet of the tall statue of Jesus. The images burn lasting memories, knowing how important each prayer was for my Abuela and how I often longed to know what things she was asking for or for whom she prayed most.
As she became older, my Abuela attended church services less; life and health often got in the way as it does. But one thing she always had were her candles. “Abuela, mañana tengo un examen, ¿prendame una vela?” “Abuela, acabo de aplicar por un trabajo, ¿prendame una vela?” “Abuela, estoy mal, ¿prendame una vela?” And when she saw us struggle she would offer and say, “No te preocupes, te prendo una vela.”
Our understanding of the Candle was that the lighting was a way of extending a prayer and showing solidarity with the person on whose behalf the prayer was offered. Honestly, with all the Puerto Rican home remedies I was taught over the years (i.e. rolling a coconut with only your feet or having a full glass of water behind the door, both practices used to absorb bad spirits and energy in the house), it was always the Candle that did the job. I keep one in my kitchen, near the sink of course, as is tradition, and will offer the same support my Abuela did for all who ask and all who need it. It’s one of the ways I honor the my Puerto Rican heritage and the wonderful Abuela who gave me my life lessons and the traditions that continue to keep grounded to the path which I walk today.