Tag Archives: Celebrating Christmas in Mexico

Las Posadas and Modern Day Marias

Las Posadas in Mexico is a 9-day nightly reenactment of Maria and Jose (Mary and Joseph) searching for lodging on their travels to Bethlehem.


In the song, it’s all very sweet when the housekeeper (he insists his home is not an inn) finally allows Maria to huddle in the stables to give birth and all, but have you ever wondered what type of woman Maria was to even make this trip? What kind of courage did it take for her to leave her friends and family to come with her husband, who wasn’t even sure about marrying her in the first place? (Matthew 1:19 ) Then when she finally arrived in Bethlehem after a long, tiresome trek, she didn’t even have a place to stay. Talk about poor planning on Jose’s part! Can you imagine how it must have pained her to be in active labor and still at the door negotiating for a room as depicted in Las Posadas? Did the housekeeper’s wife convince him to offer them refuge that night? Did she attend Maria as she gave birth? Was Maria surrounded by a community of women or was she alone? Was a midwife summoned? Was it a difficult birth? Were there complications? Did she cry with joy when she first lay eyes on her firstborn? How was her recovery? Did she have problems nursing? Did the baby feed well? Who let those shepherds into the stable? Were they just bringing in their flocks for the night or did they come to gawk? I’m sure she wasn’t really up for visitors right then. Must have been another one of her husband’s bright ideas. (Luke 2: 1-20)

Then, after the visit of the three astronomers (Los Tres Reyes) some months later (not a handful of days like the Three Kings’ Day tradition suggests), Jose dragged her and her young son to Egypt, where they lived as foreigners until King Herod’s death (Matthew 2:1-23). In a land of strangers, who did she turn to when her son was colicky? Who made the poultice to keep the baby’s fever down? Who laughed with Maria as they watched him take his first steps? Who made up her community of women so far from home? Was she able to negotiate a good deal at the market? Did the sellers take advantage of her foreignness or her inability to communicate well in the language? Did she have anyone to listen to her complaints when Jose had one too many at the local gathering house? Did her first Passover celebrated without her family cause her to weep with homesickness?

Well, we can only imagine what Maria’s life might have been like, how she managed, what joys and sorrows she saw, what challenges she overcame. From what little we know about her, she was a woman of faith, chosen among women but firm in her modesty. The Las Posadas song and Mexican culture give her the added title of being the Queen of Heaven among titles but she considered herself no more than a servant. (Luke 1:48) It’s too bad those inspired bible writers left out so much of her story. Men!

I thought that instead of rehashing the holiday traditions unique to Mexico (See Christmas in Mexico) this year, I’d share stories of women, who like Maria, left the land of their birth to live in a foreign land. Perhaps by reading their stories, we might imagine what Maria’s early married life may have been like. I hope you are as inspired by the stories of these modern day Marias as I have been.

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Christmas in México–Kindergarten event

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Have I mentioned that I’m not a big fan of school events? Well, I suppose I am when I’m a parent watching comfortably in my seat while my child performs. In that case, I think school events are the bomb. But as a teacher, it’s not quite the same experience.

For the Christmas event at the school that I work at, I was given two assignments, one from the kindergarten and one from the elementary. I figured Christmas carols would be the easiest to teach. So I set about practicing on December 1 for the December 18 event. Three weeks should be good, right?

I teach three groups of kindergarten, or rather it’s more like preschool. I chose Jose Feliciano’s Feliz Navidad as our group song. Here’s how it went.

Pre-K and first grade are the littlest and are 2 or 3 years old. They love everything. They are always excited to see me–often hollering “Teacher” from across the school as I arrive. They get down and boogie with their maracas. They laugh when I get down and boogie with them. Everything was going great.

Then during the second week of rehearsal, R arrived. He is just barely 2 and still in diapers. He is also a crier. Not just a sniffler, mind you, but the open mouth screamer type of crier. He didn’t want to be in my class at all. He cried the entire class, every single day. But it wasn’t me, just the class because when it was time for me to go to my next class, he wanted to come with me and would begin a new set of howls. He seemed to really like music, though. The only time he wasn’t crying was when we were dancing. So I decided that since it’s the time to be jolly, I’d put Christmas carols on while we did our classwork. It worked like a charm! They say music soothes the wild beast and R was perfectly content as long as there was music playing. If there were a pause between songs, he’d run right up to the cd player and push buttons so that the music would start again. When we went into the basketball court to rehearse, he ran back to the room and carried the cd player out to me single handedly. All righty then!

Then there is the next group. Second-grade students are 3-5 years old. There are only 4 students in that class, so I teach them together with the 12 first graders. One student, A refused to enter my class. He claimed that the class was too noisy. Well, when R was hollering, I suppose it was. It didn’t help that his mother is one of the kindergarten teachers. He ran to her and hid behind her skirts. I’m not about to carry a kicking and screaming kid into my class, so I left him alone. His loss, not mine.

Then there is M. He has some sort of language issue. He’s been diagnosed with Asperbergers and Autism and delayed development and a host of other neurological problems. He definitely needs special attention and I’m still learning how to work with him, but I seem to have fewer problems than his regular kindergarten teacher. The joy on his face when he is singing is worth all the effort. He loved his maracas. One day, after we had begun rehearsals, I passed M on the way to another class. He was sitting alone on the step and looking quite dejected. Through mime, he managed to get me to understand that it was about his maracas. Then I asked where his maracas were and he pointed to the office. I asked what the problem was and he put his face in his hands. I went and asked the teacher what was going on. She told me that she had taken his maracas and hidden them in the principal’s office because he wouldn’t let go of them. So I knelt down and told him that the maracas were for English and that tomorrow when I came, he would have his maracas again. There hasn’t been a problem since.

The third-grade group is made up of  5 and 6 years old. They are so self-contained that even if I’m literally doing a song and dance routine in the front of the room, they aren’t paying me the least bit of attention. There is one exception. T is a super singer and dancer. He needs only hear the song and see the routine once, and he’s got it down pat. It was his singing and dancing that got me through the third grade lackluster rehearsals.

Two days before the event, I wanted to have a full rehearsal with all the groups. So after the elementary lunch was over, I lined up all 25 students in the basketball court and had them sit down to put on the music. However, the principal of the elementary school had all the elementary students in the basketball court lined up for a “rehearsal” as well. He knows very well that I am not able to practice with the kindergarten except for that particular hour. He knows because he set up my schedule. Here I had all the kids ready to go, maracas in hand, and we wouldn’t be able to practice. I marched the kids back to their rooms and stormed into the kindergarten principal’s office to demand to know the reason why I couldn’t practice when I had cleared this time slot with her. Apparently there is no communication between the elementary and the kindergarten, and as a result,  the shared space has become a battle zone with each school fighting for control

So the second day, I cleared the practice area again. I had everyone out and lined up, maracas in hand. I gave the principal my memory stick and guess what? The speaker would not read it. Great! Just great! So I went on a mad dash to find a cd player so that we could connect it up and get going. There wasn’t a single cd player to be found, not in any of the nearby classrooms, not the principal’s office (and he always has at least 2), nothing. So I ran over to the farthest room of the elementary school where my classroom is to bring my cd player. I gave it to the principal, but there was still the hunt for the connecting cable and the setup. Meanwhile, the kids who I had left sitting orderly on the floor had joined up a free-for-all demolition derby race. There were broken maracas, crying babies, and angry five-year-olds. Rehearsal didn’t go very well.

I gave my memory stick to the principal to make a copy, because her memory stick worked just fine, and scheduled a rehearsal in the afternoon at 1 pm when I had finished my elementary classes and before the kindergarten went home. I arrived to find that the kids were still gluing the eyes and nose on their Rudolph project. I lent a hand to get it done. Sticky hands and all, we went out to practice. It went marginally better. The routine is pretty basic. The kids sing, and during the Feliz Navidad part, we shake the maracas. When the English part comes on, we put the maracas on the floor and do the twist, ending with open arms “from my heart.” Then we pick up the maracas and repeat.

That rehearsal wasn’t so great. R didn’t seem to get the choreography and shook his maracas through the entire song. The second graders didn’t pay attention and shook when it was time for the twist. The third graders bopped each other on the head with the maracas. Sigh.

The event was scheduled for Friday morning at 9 am. I arrived a little after 8 figuring I could help with the setup. The principal arrived at 8:40 and seemed surprised that none of the teachers had arrived. They trickled in one by one just before 9, which is when the event was scheduled to begin. But, this is Mexico, and everything starts late. We started at 9:30 even though one of the three wise men hadn’t yet arrived. The kids enacted a little pastorela, the reenactment of the birth of Jesus. The missing wise man arrived just in time for his lines. After which they sang two villancicos (Christmas) songs. Then it was my turn.

I had collected the maracas in a box beforehand, and the teachers handed them out while I lined up the kids. I thought it went pretty well. Here’s a clip for you to enjoy–

So afterward, we served the parents corundas (triangle shaped tamales cooked in corn leaves) and ponche (hot fruit beverage). Santa made an appearance. Each child received a gift from Santa. The gifts had been brought ahead of time by the parents and hidden away. The pinata was broken. And as the kids left, they were given an aguinaldo in a foamy slipper from Los Reyes Magos. And that was that!

Stay tuned for the dramatic Elementary School Event–coming soon!

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Christmas in México–Christmas Eve

pinata December 24th is the final night of Las Posadas.  (See Celebrating Christmas—Las Posadas)  Therefore, the singing, prayers, and piñata are all part of the evening’s activities.  Unlike the other 8 days, there is a Misa de Gallo (midnight mass) afterward.  Traditionally, this is also when the image of the baby Jésus is placed in the manger of the nativity scene. But basically, this night is dedicated to the Christmas Eve feast.  Some homes serve traditional foods such as pozole or tamales, but other families have become more Americanized and serve ham or turkey.

However, my husband’s family is del rancho (from the country) and therefore, we did things just a bit differently. When my mother-in-law was alive, it was customary for all the in-México family to gather together in order to enjoy the largesse of the out-of-México family.  This generosity was usually in the form of some money wired and the subsequent purchase of some meat and tequila.  We would meet up after mass at the house up the hill in La Yacata, for the BYOB (Bring Your Own Bucket) affair. The buckets were arranged around a bonfire big enough to scorch the bejeezus out of both the meat and party-goers, but it was unheard of to have this gathering indoors.  My mother-in-law would serve the meat, and I as was one her least favorite, I had to be content with a mere sliver of bistek (beef) and a few greasy tortillas. Meanwhile, the menfolk, and some of the womenfolk gallivanted around with their tequila and poked at the bonfire every so often.

When my son was smaller, I used his bedtime to retire after my measly meal.  I didn’t see any reason to stay up and outside ‘til the wee hours of the morning in the cold.  My absence, other than a snide remark or two about my delicacy as I left, was hardly noted. Since the death of my mother-in-law, any warped togetherness my husband’s family ever had disappeared and we no longer congregate around the bonfire perched on paint buckets.  The past two years we have made feeble attempts to institute another sort of family gathering for Christmas Eve, but it’s too soon to say if a new family tradition has been adopted.

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Christmas in México—Poinsettias

poinsetta

Poinsettia gone wild!

Everyone knows that the poinsettia was adopted in the United States as a Christmas decoration when Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Ambassador to Mexico, introduced the plant into the United States in 1825.  So since this weed was so highly esteemed by the neighbors to the north, the Mexican too adopted this plant as a holy Christian symbol. 

However, it was valued prior to Christianity reached the shores of México.  The Poinsettia, or Cuitlaxochitl as it was known in Nahuatl, was used by the pre-Hispanic indigenous people to make clothing dyes.  It was also thought to host the souls of fallen warriors.

Then, during the 17th Century, a group of Franciscan priests settled near Taxco and began to use the poinsettia as decoration in the Fiesta of Santa Pesebre and most likely, in their Christmas celebrations.

A relatively modern story evolved to provide rational for its Christmas use.  There are several versions of this story about, and here is one more.

Once upon a time, a young boy was going to see the image of the Christ child at the altar in the local iglesia (church) on Christmas Eve.  He felt bad that he wasn’t able to bring any gifts to lay at its feet.  As he was walking, he saw a green leafy plant by the side of the road.   Having nothing else to bring, he picked the plant and went inside the church.  When he lay the plant by the image of the baby Jésus, it miraculously changed color.  It’s leaves turned bright red.   He knew his gift from the heart had been well received in heaven. From this day forth, this plant has been called La Flor de la Nochebuena.

Other versions follow the same story line, but the gift is given by a little girl. (The Legend of the Poinsettia)

Some versions of this story have the boy actually giving the plant to the baby Jésus like the Little Drummer Boy rather than visiting a local altar, but that just seems too hokey.  This plant is not native to Bethlehem and how a little Mexican indigenous boy found his way to Israel is beyond explanation, so the stories don’t even try.

However it came about, the NocheBuena is now a firmly entrenched emblem of Christmas in México.
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