December 17th: San Lázaro Day, the Afro-Cuban Babalú Aye

In Cuban culture, December 17th marks El Día de San Lázaro, the day of Saint Lazarus. San Lazaro holds dual roles for many Cubans, being both a Catholic saint, and a god in the Afro-Cuban santeria religion.

Back on December 17, 2004, Babalu Blog founder Val Prieto wrote this:

Today, December 17th, is Babalu Aye day in the Afro-Cuban religion. Babalu Aye is the Orisha name for St. Lazarus, who is commonly referred to as the father of the world.

Babalu Aye is the Orisha who governs epidemics and heals infectious diseases.

Though originally associated with smallpox, many of today’s worshipers appeal to Babalu Aye for healing from HIV/AIDs. His colors are brown, black, and purple. His number is 17. His symbols are two dogs and crutches. He is portrayed dressed in burlap. He is offered white wine, popcorn, sesame seed candy, and a variety of grains, beans, and seeds.

Many Cubans hold a vigil starting the night of December 16th. They get together and light candles and make offerings to Babalu Aye and wait for him to arrive at midnight. Come midnight, they ask for San Lazaro to watch over them and keep them and their families safe and healthy.

I am not an overtly religious person, but one of the two items of jewelry I wear – the other being my wedding ring – is a gold medallion of the image above that my grandfather gave me before he passed away. And to be completely honest, sometimes I really do feel like someone’s watching over me and protecting me. Gracias, Primo.

The song made famous by Desi Arnaz – and the reason for this blog’s name – is actually a tribute to San Lazaro, Babalu Aye.

Gracias, Viejo.

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