Celebrating La Penita’s Patron Saint Festival       

Celebrating La Penita’s Patron Saint Festival          

 Tara A. Spears

Pow! Pow! Pow! For ten consecutive nights the pre-dawn setting off of fireworks rouses you from your dreams.  It’s dark between 4 and 5 am- my favorite time to be sleeping.  Jolted awake, I stumble into the kitchen to make a pot of coffee since the continuing Pow pow pow! eliminates any hope of rolling over and going back to sleep. This morning the fireworks are repeating approximately every 8 minutes, definitely a wake-up call.  Last year I had asked the parish priest, what’s with the fireworks?  His eyes lit up as he replied, “I want to wake the town to come celebrate the Mass!”  Since I am sleep deprived, it was difficult to restrain myself from saying, “The loud fireworks make me want to curse and gives me violent thoughts….”  But good manners prevailed;  keeping  those thoughts to myself, I simply grimaced and said, “Oh.”  I try to put a positive spin on the pre-dawn activity by reminding myself that I only have to endure the wake-up from May 10-20.

Each year the village (puebla) of La Peñita de Jaltemba celebrates the Patron Saint’s Festival of Our Lady of the Rosary. During these 11 days, the different colonias (neighborhoods) in La Peñita organize to participate in marching down the avenida for a novena in the church.  The organizers show their devotion to Nuestra Señora del Rosario de Talpa through several activities besides the daily mass, such as singing, pilgrimages, and fireworks. Most years the programs will include activities for all ages: artistic and cultural events, bands and dancing, rides for the kids, all of which will be held in the La Penita plaza. There are lots of different food and of course, plenty of cold beer.

This eleven day festival reminds me of the county fairs that are common north of the border.


According to Jenny McGill in her 2007 article, “At Home in Talpa de Allende, Jalisco,” the legend of the little Virgin doll dates back to the 1600s.

In those days, as today, the custom was for the worshipers to bring fruit and vegetables from their ranches to lay before the Virgin on the altar. Ears of corn, tender tasty squashes, green beans, chilies, cucumbers, and all sort of agricultural products were brought as offerings. These natural products served as a vehicle for a multitude of insects. Time, travel and bugs made holes and cracks in the Virgin. Water from flowers laid at her feet had stained and rotted the figure until it barely had a human shape anymore.

The parish priest noticed that several of the small images were old and badly disfigured and, according to church laws, should be retired from the public. He called in the custodians who were in charge and instructed them to dig a hole in the sacristy of the church, wrap the disfigured images in old altar cloths and bury them. But when one of the young girls, a Maria Tenanchi, was cleaning the church reached out to take the Little Virgin that had been made of corn stalks in Michoacan, the doll began to light up with such splendor that it seemed as if a bolt of lightning had struck it. The little Virgin had lovely robes and was trimmed in gold!

The main elements of the legend have been confirmed as the Little Virgin (presently encased in glass) has survived for hundreds of years. Many other miracles have been credited to the diminutive statue.

Although the Patron saint festival is much more secular than fifty years ago, it is still a significant event for this rural community.   The children are excited and the whole family is having fun either watching or participating in the evening activities.

Only six more pre-dawn processions- guess I’ll get some ear plugs.