It's December and the Virgin of Guadalupe is everywhere in the town of Barra de Navidad. It's fitting that I will spend the Christmas holidays this year in a town called Christmas Bar.
On every block there are religious street shrines, many of them set up on December 1. There are statues and pictures of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the Mother of Mexico surrounded by roses and Christmas lights.
There were days of prayer leading up to Guadalupe's feast day on December 12 but the shrines will remain up through Christmas Day.
More than eight in 10 Mexicans revere Guadalupe, according to a recent poll, and they believe in her power to protect, heal and even grant miracles.
On the 12th, I took a bus up to Puerto Vallarta where they have a famous celebration in honor of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
I arrived in Puerto Vallarta just after nightfall. The road into town is dotted with beach front hotels and on a winding curve the bus ground to a halt. I peeked out the window and saw a line of about 50 people walking solemnly with candles. At the head of their procession was a float with a 6 foot tall image of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
She wore a blue cape and was standing on a sliver of the moon.
There would be hundreds more mini processions of people walking, running or riding bikes from nearby towns to honor Guadalupe on her feast day. It culminated with almost the entire town walking in a procession to see the Virgin of Guadalupe in the town's cathedral named for her.
I was invited to Puerto Vallarta by my friend Lupita, who shares a name and a birthday with Guadalupe. I knew it was a sign when she asked me to join her in the procession.
After the bus dropped me off in Old Town, I took a cab to her neighborhood in the hills outside Puerto Vallarta. I arrived at 11 p.m. and on Mexican television they were broadcasting a musical serenade and mass from the Basilica de Guadalupe in Mexico City.
Do you know?
I love you, beautiful girl
And with this rose I give you
Whichever lifetime I may still have
I went to bed that night with the Virgin's love protecting me like a warm blanket.
The next morning we woke up early to begin our pilgrimage walk with the Virgin.
The faithful began walking at 8 a.m. and people would walk throughout the day until 8 p.m. at night. We joined the followers in front of the Woolworth's in downtown Puerto Vallarta around 10 a.m.
Already the crowd was 30 people wide and they walked packed together for over a mile to the church. A walk that would have taken 15 minutes took more than two and a half hours.
It was a day where people wore their Mexican pride. Most of the women wore blouses embroidered with flowers of pre-Columbian patterns. The children also were dressed up. Many of the girls wore green or blue veils as if they were the Virgin. Girls and women wore dresses and men wore T-shirts all emblazoned with the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
And many of the boys wore white pants and tops and painted mustaches. They represented the indigenous man and now saint, Juan Diego, to whom the Virgin appeared in Mexico City in 1531.
We walked almost nose to nose until we turned at the cathedral. People filed in to say a prayer before an image of Guadalupe.
I said a prayer, as I always do, for my loved ones, and to thank her again for bringing me back to Mexico, where I have spent the last several months traveling and writing.
Soon it will be time for me to go back to Chicago but I know that she will still be with me in my Pilsen neighborhood where there are many murals to the one I call madre.
Gracias mi virgencita for guiding me on this journey.