LAS POSADAS: A Historical Advent-Christmas Celebration from México
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By Horacio Rios
“Enter ye, holy pilgrims!” (Entren Santos Peregrinos) is the joyful response sung to the Joseph and Mary impersonators in live Nativity presentations in towns, villages and neighborhoods throughout México on the evening of Christmas Eve. After a nine-day pilgrimage in which the Holy Family has been turned away from prearranged stops at various homes or public places, hospitality is at last offered to “Joseph and Mary.”
Community celebrants and clergy who have journeyed with them since the evening of Dec. 16 join them, rejoicing to await the midnight arrival of the Bethlehem Child.
This Christmas celebration is a contemporary Roman Catholic adaptation of a tradition attributed to Saint John of the Cross. In 1580, he led a community procession through the halls of the Carmelite Convent of Avila, Spain, carrying the images of Joseph and Mary. The travelers sought hospitality as they knocked at the cells of the residents.
The annual enactment of Joseph and Mary’s pilgrimage was adapted toward the end of the 16th century by the Augustinian and Franciscan priests from Spain to evangelize and teach the people of México.
The participation of the common people in the re-enactment of Jesus’ birth helped new converts experience receiving hope and promise in the acceptance of the Son of God.
The nine days of the Posadas at the end of Advent parallel the season of Lent as they offer a period of reflection, of prayer and singing to prepare one’s heart to receive the Christ child. They are also reminders of Mary’s nine months of pregnancy.
At the end of each celebration of the Posadas comes the breaking of the piñata, which holds a dual meaning. The first is the act of breaking “to vanquish the enemy of the soul” and thus be rewarded by “the goods that come down from heaven.” The other has a more Christological meaning: the necessary affliction and scourge of sacrifice so goodness and mercy may be made available to all.
Generally Protestants in México do not celebrate Las Posadas, but in many denominations Christmas dramas are presented in the churches to remind their members of the Christmas message. Often the presentations are followed by festive celebrations with refreshments.
Presenting Las Posadas offsets a growing secularization of Christmas and the loss of the original message.
Later, on Jan. 6, the 12th day of Christmas, the “Night of the Kings” (Epiphany) is celebrated. People have the opportunity to be generous to each other and give, even as the Wise Men did.
This tradition, which is also being lost, was designed to avoid human giving on Christmas Day distracting from the ultimate gift of God’s generosity.
—The Rev. Horacio M. Rios, Nashville, Tenn., is the former editor of el Aposento Alto, the Spanish edition of The Upper Room.
Las Posadas and United Methodists
United Methodists Raquel M. Martinez, the Rev. Roberto Escamilla and the late Rev. Carlos Avendano, adapted Las Posadas for two services included in The United Methodist Book of Worship.
“Las Posadas (Service of Shelter for the Holy Family)” provides liturgy and directions for the nine-day observance, which takes participants to different locations. Also offered is “A Christmas Eve Service of Las Posadas” that can be used in a local church.