Celebrating Las Posadas: from Mexico to the US

Passing on cultural traditions (both Mexican and US) to our children is extremely important to my husband and I: language, food, celebrations and religion are four significant areas that we try to integrate into our lives. Not only does it help them identify with both the English and Spanish communities, but these daily and special occasions strengthen the bond we have within our family, instill pride in their heritage and increase their language competence.

When my husband was growing up in Mexico City, his family and friends would celebrate Las Posadas every December. “Las Posadas” (which means “lodging”) is a lovely tradition celebrated the 9 days preceding Christmas (the number representing the nine months of pregnancy that Mary carried Jesus). Though before getting married I had never been invited to a posadas party, once we had children we began to incorporate this custom into our family, with some adaptations (usually only having one posada instead of the traditional 9!). We celebrate this with friends and family to teach our children about the birth of Jesus and to incorporate an important Mexican cultural tradition into our Christmas.

Las Posadas try to represent or relive the pilgrimage of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem (Belén) while they’re trying to find a place to stay — with a celebration at the end when they finally find their lodging and Jesus is born.

In Mexico, it starts with a song, as a statue of Mary and Joseph parade through the neighborhood. In some cases, the procession is very elaborate with musicians, instruments or even live animals. We went to a huge posada in Chicago one year with a donkey, cows, sheep, and goats — the kids were so interested in the animals they didn’t want the procession to end! The children carrying the statues knock on (predetermined) doors, asking if they have any room in the inn in a simple, but eloquent song called “Pidiendo Posadas.” My kids love when I break down the Spanish lyrics and explain each line:

En el nombre del cielo
os pido posada
pues no puede andar
mi esposa amada.
In the name of Heaven
I beg you for lodging,
for my beloved wife who cannot walk.

People (“innkeepers”) keep denying them a place to stay until finally the family who is hosting the posada allow the Holy Family to stay at with them. They open their house and offer food (tamales, mole, tacos) to all of the procession. The hosts also always serve the typical warm drink of ponche: a homemade punch of cinnamon, piloncillo (raw sugar), boiled with lots of fruit: tejocotes, guayabas, ciruela pasas (prunes), pasas (raisins), and tamarindo, using caña (sugar cane) to stir it. Sometimes adults add rum or brandy!

Celebrating Las Posadas: from Mexico to the US

The mood of the party is vibrant and exciting, and guests’ senses are stimulated by the smells of the delicious feast, the sounds of music, and all of the lights. While parents socialize, the children play with luces de bengala (sparklers) and other types of fireworks and then get to break the piñata that is filled with fruit like mandarinas, mini-jicamas, tejocotes, peanuts, and more sugar cane. Finally, the kids get a little basket with confitones (candied almonds), chocolate and other candy.

Celebrating Las Posadas: from Mexico to the US

The kids LOVE it!!! Everyone is speaking Spanish, playing with each other, marveling at the rarity of the sparklers. Something we love about parties in Mexico is that families celebrate together: it’s not an adult party nor is it a kids party, it’s a family party. Las posadas begin with a religious reenactment of Mary and Joseph’s journey, and end in a fiesta with great food, lots of joking and talking, and families having fun together.  This is what we hope to replicate when we make our own posada here in the US: learning about the story of Christmas, modeling warm hospitality, and spending time as a family while celebrating with our dearest friends.

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