Everywhere we look in our Utah communities, we see a tapestry of rich religious traditions that bring and hold us together. One, in particular, started at the Guadalupe Mission in Salt Lake on 400 South and 400 West in 1914.

Every Dec. 12 as the sun rises, a festive serenade (las mananitas) starts the day to celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and a feast it is. It is to honor the "Brown Madonna," "la morenita," Mexico's patron saint, and celebrated in Mexican communities worldwide. Though the old mission is gone, the tradition lives on at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church located at 715 W. 300 North.

Growing up, I remember my mother telling about the miracle of our Lady of Guadalupe and how she became the patron saint of Mexico. In a reverent voice, she told of the glorious event about how the mother of Jesus appeared to an indigenous Indian, Juan Diego, on top of Tepeyac Hill in Mexico, and told him to send a message to the Catholic bishop to build a church on that site. Juan Diego delivered the message to the bishop, but no one believed him. When he later passed the hill again, the Lady told him to pick some roses from the barren hill and carry them in his apron to the bishop as proof of her message to build a church on the hill. On Dec. 12, Juan Diego went to the bishop; he let the roses drop at the bishop's feet, and on his apron was imprinted the image of the Virgen de Guadalupe. It was a miracle; and then the bishop believed the humble Indian. Her church was built on Tepeyac. The commemoration of Our Lady of Guadalupe began in 1531 and has been a Mexican holiday since 1859.

As a child, I remember Dec. 12 started with an early morning Mass, people playing guitars and a children's choir singing "las mananitas" (comparable to a happy birthday song in English) with the congregation. In the evening, we would return to church to pray the rosary.

For us kids, we could hardly wait for the praying to end so we could go back to the smaller room where we broke the pinata. For our parents, it was a very religious event; but for us kids it was a day to have some fun. My parents and the early Mexican families in the city made pan dulce and hot chocolate (some may have even added their own spirits to the chocolate). Throughout the day, burning incense was used to bless our patron saint and the congregation, and it filled the church with a familiar scent that still lingers in my mind today.

The all-day/evening tradition continues at the Guadalupe Church and has become the place for Salt Lake residents to join in the festivities. Besides the pan dulce and chocolate, they've added homemade tamales, pozole, enchiladas and all kinds of goodies and entertainment. And it starts with the singing of las mananitas (the Mexican birthday song), a procession around the church and a Mass with mariachis at 6 a.m. on Dec. 12th. The public is invited.

The celebration of our Lady of Guadalupe is one of many traditions carried out through our religious community this time of year. They form the tapestry of religions that remind us of who we are, the things we have in common and how rich our lives are because of that.

It is those traditions with their symbols and icons that keep nourishing our hearts and souls — faith, hope and love.

A Utah native, John Florez has founded several Hispanic civil rights organizations; been on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch, served on more than 45 state, local and volunteer boards; and filled White House appointments, including deputy assistant secretary of labor and as a member of the commission on Hispanic education. E-mail: [email protected]