A day like this 300 year ago our lady of the Rosary of Chiquinquira came to our land to care and bless us with her love.
An old lady named Maria Cárdenas made a living by washing other people's clothes, a job she did every morning at the shores of the lake. On November 18th 1709 she took a bulk of clothes, and as usual, went to the lake to start washing them. This old lady was at her chores when she saw a small wooden slab floating towards her. She picked it up thinking that it might be of some use.
When Cárdenas finished her work, she went home carrying the clothes, the wooden slab and a small vase with fresh water. She then placed the board on top of the vase, before noticing a small figure in the board but could not tell what it was. Feeling curious about this, she went directly to see what was happening and found the slab glowing with a bright light to later find the image of the Virgin of Chiquinquirá.
Surprised and filled with a strong emotion, Cárdenas immediately ran out of her house located on the 2nd avenue, screaming and shouting the words “Miracle! Miracle!” Her neighbors went where the woman was to find out that the apparition of the Virgin Mary was real. From that day on, the faith of the zulians found their Queen in the “Chinita”. As it has been expressed by many people, “She is the way that leads to Jesus”.
Since that day the street where Cárdenas lived was renamed "El Milagro" which means Miracle in Spanish, and to this day it is one of the most important streets in the neighborhood of "El Saladillo" in the city of Maracaibo. To this day the wooden slab with the image on it can still be seen in the Basilica in Maracaibo.
Legend has it that the government decided that the wood with the image belonged in the capital city, Caracas. So they ordered it moved. As the soldiers following the order carried the image away from Maracaibo it got heavier and heavier until finally no one could lift it. They returned it to the Basilica of Maracaibo where it has remained with the belief that no one can remove it.
The people of Maracaibo celebrate the Chinita's fair in November with an all-night party. One of the main city avenues, Bella Vista, is closed for several blocks and the city puts lights along the whole avenue. The lights stay up for months, until after Christmas. There are stages set up, sponsored by the government and businesses around the city. There are firework shows and street vendors, and hundreds of thousands of people line the streets and celebrate all night.
The Chinita’s fair officially begins on October 27th when the Virgin is taken down from the altar in which she rests. She tours all over the Zulia State and returns to the Basilica to start all the religious festivities. Around October 2nd, Bella Vista Avenue sees itself lit up by all the Christmas decorations and the local government promotes a series of public concerts with national and international artists to begin the “real” fair. Crowds of people flock together to the different stages or platforms devised to house such concerts.
Other cultural activities are held during the fair. Expo-Zulia is a temporary marketplace where the zulians show a great deal products that characterize our region. Many merchants, stores, companies and artisans offer their products at reasonably low prices. The Bullfights are also popular and a number of these are held in our bullring. The “Toros coleados” is another event that people don’t usually miss. Many “gaiteros” gather in front of the basilica to sing their best gaitas to please the patron virgin of our people putting an end to the “gaita season”.