Tag Archives: Mexican Christmas traditions

Christmas in México–Las Posadas

posada

Las Posadas is a 9-day series of community or family gatherings that begin December 16 and end December 24 reenacting the pilgrimage of José y María (Joseph and Mary) from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  According to some sources, this tradition began in 1587 when the priest Diego Soria instituted a series of masses to replace the celebrations that occurred during this same time period to the god of war, Huitzilopochtli.  During this Aztec festival, a slave was selected to represent Quetzalcóatl and sacrificed at the conclusion of the 9 days of festivities, and the temples held ceremonies reenacting the arrival of Quetzalcóatl.

As it is currently observed, family groups or communities take turns hosting the event.  The host family plays the role of the innkeeper, and the visitors are assigned the role of peregrinos (pilgrims) in search of lodging.  The peregrinos (pilgrims) pedir posada (ask for accommodation) in song-form from the host family, standing outside a closed door with lit candles.  The song is funny, irreverent and a bit complicated to sing.  Most participants use cheat sheets provided by the host.  The complete song in Spanish and English can be found HERE.

Once the host “recognizes” Mary and Joseph, the peregrinos (pilgrims) are allowed to enter.  Refreshment is provided by the host, usually in the form of pozole (hominy stew) or another traditional dish and ponche (fruit punch) or canela (hot cinnamon tea).  This is followed by reza (prayers, usually the rosary is recited) and la piñata.  Host families also provide aguinaldos (a bag of treats and fruit) for the departing participants to take with them.

Or so this custom is celebrated in Moroleón.  Once upon a time, before I knew better, I agreed to accompany my mother-in-law to Las Posadas.  Little did I realize that we would be in for a night of posada-crashing.  We drove around until we saw a group of people huddled outside a home and follow them in.  As the whole point of the event is to express hospitality, the host could not ask us to leave although I noticed several dirty looks sent our way.  I, for one, felt extremely uncomfortable eating a stranger’s food and accepting the aguinaldo (treat bag), so much so that I tried to return it, but that wasn’t allowed either.  It’s the season for giving after all and I just further offended that host.  My mother-in-law had no such qualms and ate to her heart’s content, even asking for a second aguinaldo.  After that night, I refused to attend any more posadas that Christmas season, even though there were 8 days left.

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Christmas in México–La Virgen de Guadalupe

virgen

The Virgen de Guadalupe (Virgin of Guadalupe), a.k.a. Nuestra Reina de México, La Empresa de las Americas and The Protectress of Unborn Children, is the most revered religious and political image in México and her feast day on December 12 kicks off the Christmas season in grand style.

So who is the Virgin of Guadalupe? According to Catholic sources, on December 9, 1531, a peasant by the name of Juan Diego, saw a vision on the Hill of Tepeyac, outside of Mexico City. The site was formerly a shrine in honor of the goddess Tonantzin, “Our Sacred Mother” but had been burnt to the ground by the Catholic missionaries. The reported vision was in the form of a young dark-skinned girl and spoke Nahuatl, an indigenous language. She instructed Juan Diego to build a shrine in her honor at this site. Juan Diego went and told the Archbishop this story. Juan Diego insisted that this vision was the La Virgen María (the Virgin Mary), but the Archbishop wanted proof, so Juan Diego returned to the site and asked for a miracle. The vision told Juan Diego to gather flowers, and the apparition arranged them on his poncho. When Juan Diego opened his poncho in front of the Archbishop on December 12, the flowers fell to the floor, and the fabric showed an imprint of the image known today as the Virgen de Guadalupe. (LA VIRGEN DE GUADALUPE)

Juan Diego was given sainthood, and the Catholics were given México.The poncho (tilma) is on display in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe behind bulletproof, climate-controlled glass, for any who wish to see but not touch. So basically, La Virgen de Guadalupe is Mary, the mother of Jesus, but not.

la reina de mexico

Even more than the religious influence, the image of La Virgen de Guadalupe has been a unifying political force in México. The first president of México, José Miguel Ramón Adaucto Fernández y Félix changed his name to Guadalupe Victoria (Victory of Guadalupe) in her honor. Father Miguel Hidalgo, in the Mexican War of Independence (1810), and Emiliano Zapata, in the Mexican Revolution (1910), led their armies with Guadalupan flags emblazoned with an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. El Grito de Dolores, (See Mexican Independence Day) ends with the passionate cry of “Death to the Spaniards and long live the Virgin of Guadalupe. José María Morelos adopted the Virgin as the seal of his Congress of Chilpancingo. All because her blessing guarantees success like no other to a true Mexican.

This holds true for namesakes as well. There is no end to the men and women (Lupes, Lupillos, Lupitas, Lupillas) that carry the sacred name of La Virgen as their personal Saint and enjoy the festivities on December 12 as their Saint Day.

tepeyac

So how is La Virgen’s de Guadalupe’s feast day celebrated? Beginning on December 3, there is a 9-day novena (See La Novena) which ends on December 12th. If you need special intervention for a personal cause, you can make the pilgrimage to México City to lay your plea at her feet during this time. If you are not able to make the trip, shrines pop up all over México, so you still get a chance no matter where you are, although the surest and most direct route for prayer answering remains at the shrine in the Basilica. Don’t worry about oversleeping, fireworks in her honor begin before the sun shines. On the morning of December 12, home and church shrines are serenaded with Las Mañanitas as you would any other Mexican on his or her Saint day and birthday.(NOVENA A LA VIRGEN DE GUADALUPE)(Mananitas a La Virgen De Guadalupe: La Reina)

virgen church

In Moroleón, the street Tepeyac is closed and a sort of tianguis (See Failing at your own business-Tianguis) street fair is set up. Street vendors sell their things, kiddie rides are available, and at the end of it all, up a long, long flight of stairs, you can attend mass at the templo (church) in Uriangato.

The Virgin of Guadalupe Religious Statue

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