What are Las Posadas? The question came to me from my son while learning about unique Mexican Christmas traditions. While most people north of the border, and likely in much of the Christian world are familiar with the concept of Santa Claus, in Mexico the only place you see that image is in Costco or Walmart. The tentacles of commercialization are slowly gaining a grip as they drape across the sandy deserts of the frontera and down into the deeply Catholic country of Mexico. Que lastima. Some of the Christian traditions from 5 centuries of Spanish influence still hold strong, and one of the best examples could be the passage of Las Posadas.
Las Posadas begins on December 16th and continues for 9 days until the Christmas Eve. The
roots of this tradition go back to the Spanish missionaries as an attempt to press upon the native people the importance of the season for Christianity. Las Posadas can best be described as a procession of people which meet during the evenings during the posada days before Christmas. The gathering of people, usually led by someone from the local church and includes people of all ages, play and sing Christmas carols such as Campana Sobre Campana or Bells over Bethelehem and portray the Nativity scene of Mary and Joseph’s approach into Bethlehem looking for a place to stay for the night.
The real Christmas story is well known and I don’t mean the one about Santa and Rudolf. The version depicted in Mexico is unique as the people pass from one door way to another looking for “posada” or shelter at the inn. As they get turned away at each door they search for posada each night until Christmas eve, when Mary and Joseph are welcomed to the inn. Usually Mary or Guadalupe rides through the town on a burro, but I’ve also seen her atop a rusty Chevy with no license plates, in true Mexican flavor.
After a rosary is said by all in the procession, the reenactment of the nativity scene progresses with the simulation of the birth of Christ child, complete with 3 wise kings, angels, and animals. After mid-night, the town zocalo will light up with the usual festivities and fiestas celebrating one of the two most important events in the Christian calendar, Easter or Semana Santa being the other. The arrival of Christmas is when the children finally get to smash open their piñatas, which are actually of Chinese origin and not purely Mexican, and Noche Buena begins.
Now the next time you get asked what is La Posada, or what are Las Posadas, you’ll know. Do you have any other Mexican traditions that you’d like to share? Leave a comment, we’d love to hear about them.