Hundreds of matachines dancers from San Antonio and South Texas wearing costumes adorned with beads, feathers, and religious symbols will take over Mission Concepción on Sunday, Dec. 4 starting at 2 p.m. to recognize the Immaculate Conception Feast Day, which falls on Dec. 8.

“Mission Concepción is named after Mary, Jesus’ mother, under her title of the Immaculate Conception,” Fr. David Garcia told the Rivard Report Tuesday. “This title is a doctrine of the Catholic church that believes Mary was conceived without sin because she was preordained by God to be the mother of Jesus.”

The tradition of the matachines music, costumes, and movement in San Antonio has been alive for generations, and many local families have been dancing together throughout the years.

“Different parishes in San Antonio and outlying cities have their own groups that dance in their parish, so this is a moment for all of them to come together,” Fr. Garcia said.

The dancing, steeped in indigenous and Spanish roots, takes place in countless cities and plazas throughout the Americas. I’ve seen it performed by people of all ages in the highlands of my own home state of Jalisco, Mexico. As we say in Spanish: la tradición sigue viva (the tradition remains alive).

Matachines dancers enter Mission San Juan after the Pilgrimage. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.
Matachines dancers enter Mission San José after the Pilgrimage. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

La Danza de Matachines, which is celebrated on special religious feast days, evolved over hundreds of years, starting with the Moors before the Spaniards made it their own. During the Spanish conquest, it was brought to the New World by Catholic missionaries who decided to garner indigenous traditions and refocus them on a Christian message in order to ease the conversion of indigenous peoples to Catholicism. Missionaries also used other forms of music, arts, and dance in successive evangelization efforts.

On Sunday, Dec. 4 the matachines dancers will lead a procession through Mission Concepción Park to the San Antonio River and then end their camino back at the mission.

“We start with a prayer in front of Mission Concepción, and then the procession (will head) to the San Antonio River,” Fr. Garcia said. “The river was the original source of life for the Missions and the Native Americans as well, so the river is very important. God gives us life and he gives us life through different parts of creation.”

After all the groups perform in front of the mission, they will enter through the doors of the church to dance in front of the historical painting of the Virgin Mary. This is the fourth year that the dancers will celebrate the occasion in front of the mission.

Dancers wear colorful feathers and beads which bounce with every beat of the drums and the sounds of rattles in the background. Brilliant costume colors and elaborate masks are also common and represent a mixture of Mexican, Spanish, and Indian dress. I’ve often seen the dancers wear an image of the Virgen de Guadalupe on the front or back of their costumes – another important symbol of evangelization.

"La Danza de Matachines" at Mission Concepción. Photo by Ivan Acevedo.
“La Danza de Matachines” at Mission Concepción. Credit: Ivan Acevedo for the San Antonio Report

“Another feast day that is very popular is Dec. 12, and that’s Our Lady of Guadalupe,” Fr. Garcia said. “It’s celebrated by many churches in the U.S. and Mexico, and it has been celebrated in San Antonio since the founding of our city.”

Every year, people around the world celebrate the Dec. 12 feast day to commemorate the Virgin Mary’s miraculous appearance in 1531 to Juan Diego, an Aztec Indian laborer, on the Tepeyac mountain in Mexico City. Mary was said to have appeared in the form of an Aztec princess speaking the native language, and as proof of her apparition, Juan Diego brought a mantle bearing the Virgin Mary’s image to an initially skeptical Catholic bishop. The mantle is currently located in Mexico City at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, one of the most visited Catholic pilgrimage sites in the world.

The matachines performance is often put on by 12 to 18 dancers who depict different characters – good, evil, and comical – that represent a fight between paganism and the acceptance of Christianity. Every matachines group, however, has different dances and traditions depending on what area they’re from, Fr. Garcia said.

“The clothing and dances depend on the tradition and different areas of Mexico,” he explained. “Different places in Mexico celebrate it in different ways, and we also have the descendants of the Native American Indians of the missions. It’s an amazing gathering full of color, history, and tradition full of a lot of faith.”

The public is invited to witness this special celebration – a spiritual and culturally significant moment you won’t want to miss. Attendees will not only be able to experience a colorful dance, but also a blend of cultures – something representative of San Antonio’s history and one of the main pillars behind UNESCO’s World Heritage Designation of the Spanish-colonial Missions. In addition to the dancing, food truck vendors will be on site to provide food and beverage options.

Below you can view footage of matachines dancers performing in front of the historical Virgin Mary painting back in 2013.

To learn more about the Spanish-colonial Missions click here.

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Rocío Guenther

Rocío Guenther worked as a bilingual reporter and editorial assistant for the Rivard Report from June 2016 to October 2017. She is originally from Guadalajara, Mexico and holds a bachelor's in English...