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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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