By Sister Sonia-Marie Fernández, MHSH
In Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and some parts of Central America, a wonderful Christmas tradition—“Las Posadas”—is celebrated during the nine days before Christmas. The name “Las Posadas” literally means “the inns, shelter, or lodgings.”
It is a re-enactment symbolizing the Biblical journey that Joseph and Mary took to find shelter as they traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem before the birth of the Christ child, Jesus. It goes from December 16 to 24 each year. Its origin is debatable; some say Las Posadas began in Spain and others believe it originated in Mexico. Nonetheless, it is now becoming popular in the United States, especially in Hispanic neighborhoods.
The Las Posadas celebration is different in individual areas, but all have the same common theme of re-enacting the nativity. In the United States it is difficult for an entire town to observe Las Posadas, so it usually is done in individual neighborhoods or on certain streets. But, in some areas there are very large celebrations that are open to the public and visitors are welcomed.
It begins with a group of neighbors and friends who visit each other’s homes, re-enacting Mary and Joseph’s search for a place to spend the night. The processions can be held in churches or in the streets. The participants carry lit candles and a child dressed as an angel usually leads the procession. Other children pull a wagon that has a nativity scene in it.
At St. Gabriel in Windsor Mill, Maryland, my parish, we have children dressed as Mary and Joseph and they carry images of Mary and Joseph as they knock on doors asking for lodging. A choir of pilgrims (parishioners) stays outside with Mary and Joseph “singing” for lodging. Another choir is at the home of the family who has volunteered to host the night; the other homes visited have responded that “there is no room.” Finally, after some pleading, Mary and Joseph are admitted to the host home.
In some locations, the word “posadas” is synonymous with “parties” (fiesta). These fiestas are given every night for nine nights during the celebration leading up to Christmas Day. In my parish we have a piñata every night, with bags of gifts for the children and a light supper for all the pilgrims.
On the ninth day—Christmas Eve—everyone gathers at a specific house where Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging is recreated at the door of each room. Then, on the stroke of midnight, the hostess of the house leads Mary and Joseph to a table that has been prepared. Images of Mary and Joseph are placed on this table and the feasting begins.
An essential part of the Las Posadas party is a piñata for the children. This piñata is usually in the shape of a star to represent the one that guided the three kings on their search to find Jesus.
The last piñata of the Christmas season is broken on Christmas Eve when the people dress the image of the baby Jesus in satin clothes and place him in a manger; they sing songs to help him sleep. Then, they continue the celebration for another several hours.
Reflection: Are we letting Jesus into our hearts and sharing “the good news” during this Christmas season?