A posada is a religious celebration that
starts on the sixteenth day of December and continues for nine consecutive evenings.
Las Posadas is a reenactment of the search for shelter for the birth of the
baby Jesus. Las Posadas includes a procession led by children, followed by adults
and musicians. They travel to a different house in the village or neighborhood
each night looking for lodging. When they enter the designated house, they begin
the evening with prayer; soon after, the celebration begins, full of music,
fireworks, food, candy, and treats for all. Children and adults alike anticipate
this joyous religious occasion. In Mexico, the Christmas season lasts from December
16 through January 6 (Epiphany).
On the first day the Posada is enacted,
in memory of Joseph and Mary's search for a room at the inns of Bethlehem. They
form a procession with two children carrying figures of Joseph and Mary from
a creche. It is not usually a church celebration, but rather, a family or neighborhood
one. If it is done at home, they may go from room to room. At each door Joseph
and Mary knock and ask for entrance, but are refused. At least they reach a
room (house) where they are welcomed. A small altar is set up on a table, in
the form of a nativity set, the figurines placed in the nativity (although Jesus
is not placed in the nativity until Christmas Eve).
Typically, each family in a neighborhood
will schedule a night for the Posada to be held at their home, starting on the
16th of December and finishing on the 24th. A celebration follows with the breaking
of a pinata. This festival requires at least three people, preferable more:
Joseph, Mary and the "innkeepers." (You can, of course use as many
innkeepers as you have rooms or children.) At the end, while the figures are
placed in the nativity, the Christmas story from Matthew or Luke may be read
(in ours, assuming that those present are not familiar with Posadas, we have
placed the reading earlier), with a party afterward.
In traditinal homes and rural areas,
particularly in the south of Mexico, La Navidad is still very much a religious
holiday. However, just as the Magi brought gifts to the infant baby Jesus, celebrants
also bring toys to good little girls and boys on January 6, the Day of the Kings.
In the northern parts of Mexico, especially those adjacent to the United States,
Christmas trees and Santa Claus are the order of the day.
Every home will have a Nativity scene,
and the hosts of the Posada act as the innkeepers. The neighborhood children
and adults are the pilgrims (Peregrinos), who have to request lodging by singing
a traditional song about the pilgrims. All the pilgrims carry small lit candles
in their hands, and four people carry small statues of Joseph leading a donkey,
on which Mary is riding. The head of the procession will have a candle inside
a paper lamp shade, or "farolito".
The pilgrims will symbolically ask for
lodging at three different houses, but only the third one will allow them in.
That will be the house where the Posada will be held for that evening. Once
the "innkeepers" let them in, the group of guests come into the home
and kneel around the Nativity scene to pray (typically, the Rosary). This is
followed by the singing of traditional Christmas songs and a party for the children,
including a piñata. Traditionally, it is expected to meet all the invitees
in a previous procession.
In particular, in Mexico the tradition
consists of a group of hosts (may be one family in one home or a number of families
in the neighbourhood) that prepare a typical dinner to "host" the
rest of the neighbors (usually a block or section of the neighborhood). Each
one of the six days a different family (or group of families) offer to be the
hosts, so that the whole neighborhood or section participates during the twenty
days. A specialty served at some posadas is called "colaciones" which
is a flour and sugar candy, bumpy in consistency and containing a consumable
seed (such as mustard or anise) in the middle. A bola (which is a bag of goodies
containing fruits and candies) may also be distributed at the culmination of
the posada. As said, pinatas are also a part of a posada celebration.