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Posadas, a Mexican Christmas Tradition

Posadas, a Mexican Christmas Tradition

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Posadas are an important part of Mexican Christmas celebrations. The word posada means “inn” or “shelter” in Spanish, and these celebrations recreate Mary and Joseph’s search for a place to stay in Bethlehem. Posadas are held on each of the nine nights leading up to Christmas, from December 16 to 24th.
Posadas are held in neighborhoods across Mexico and are also becoming popular in the United States. The celebration consists of a procession with candles, sometimes with individuals selected to play the parts of Mary and Joseph, or sometimes images are carried. The procession will make its way to a particular home (a different one each night), where a special song is sung. In this song those outside the house sing the part of Joseph asking for shelter and the family inside responds singing the part of the innkeeper saying that there is no room. The song switches back and forth a few times until finally the innkeeper decides to let them in. The door is opened and everyone goes inside. Read the lyrics and translation of the posada song.
Inside the house there is a celebration which can vary from a very big fancy party to a small get-together among friends. Often the festivities begin with a short Bible reading and prayer. Then the hosts give the guests food, usually tamales and a hot drink – like ponche or atole. Then there are piñatas and the children are given candy.
The nine nights of posadas leading up to Christmas are said to represent the nine months that Jesus spent in Mary’s womb, or alternatively, to represent nine days journey to Bethlehem.

Las Posadas is a nine-day celebration with origins in Spain, now celebrated chiefly in Mexico, Guatemala and parts of the Southwestern United States, beginning December 16 and ending December 24, on evenings (about 8 or 10 PM).

Posada is Spanish for “lodging”, or “accommodation”; it is said in plural because it is celebrated more than one day in that period. The nine-day novena represents the nine months of pregnancy, specifically the pregnancy of Mary carrying Jesus.

The procedure has been a tradition in Mexico for 400 years. While its roots are in Catholicism, even Protestant Latinos follow the tradition. It may have been started in the 16th century by St. Ignatius of Loyola or Friar Pedro de Gant in Mexico. It may have been started by early friars who combined Spanish Catholicism with the December Aztec celebration of the birth of Huitzilopochtli.

The head of the procession will have a candle inside a paper lampshade. At each house, the resident responds by singing a song and Mary and Joseph are finally recognized and allowed to enter. Once the “innkeepers” let them in, the group of guests come into the home and kneel around the Nativity scene to pray (typically, the Rosary). Latin American countries have continued to celebrate this holiday to this day, with very few changes to the tradition. In some places, the final location may be a church instead of a home.

Individuals may actually play the various parts of Mary (María) and Joseph with the expectant mother riding a real donkey (burro), with attendants such as angels and shepherds acquired along the way, or the pilgrims may carry images of the holy personages instead. Children may carry poinsettias. The procession will be followed by musicians, with the entire procession singing posadas such as pedir posada. At the end of each night’s journey, there will be Christmas carols (villancicos), children will break open star-shaped piñatas to obtain candy and fruit hidden inside, and there will be a feast. Piñatas are traditionally made out of clay. It is expected to meet all the invitees in a previous procession.

In Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco the Vallarta Botanical Gardens hosts a Las Posadas celebration on December 20 During workshops in the daytime, participants make their own nativity scenes with local natural materials including Spanish moss. In the evening, carolers proceed to nativities that are placed among important plants including poinsettias and native Mexican pines. A bonfire and more singing rounds out the celebrations.

In Wisconsin, the procession may occur within a home, rather than outside, because of the weather.

An event in Portland, Oregon terminates with Santa Claus and donated Christmas gifts for needy children.

In New York, worshippers may drink Atole, a corn-sugar drink traditional during Christmas.

A large procession occurs along the San Antonio River Walk and has been held since 1966. It is held across large landmarks in San Antonio, Texas, including the Arneson River Theater, Museo Alameda, and the Spanish Governor’s Palace, ending at the Cathedral of San Fernando.

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