The Mexican Christmas tradition of las posadas re-enacts the bible story of Mary and Joseph searching for lodging for the night in Bethlehem. From December 16th in neighbourhoods across Oaxaca and Mexico, a nightly procession is held re-enacting this search on each of the 9 days leading up to Christmas Eve.
Last night was the first night of las posadas and I headed down to the church of Santo del Carmen to join in. After mass the congregation (and many others waiting in the church courtyard) formed into a procession and headed onto to street, the boys in the crowd blowing on small whistles, mothers carrying children and babies, elderly couples walking arm in arm. The head of the parade had a candle inside a cellophane lampshade shaped like a flower, and next to him was a guy holding a white box speaker on his shoulder, broadcasting the songs which the crowd joined in singing as we walked. Also at the front was two men carrying a small table atop of which was a statue of Joseph and Mary on a donkey. We walked down the block slowly, people singing, carrying candles and blowing whistles, until we reached a large sheet hung across the road, symbolizing the door of an inn.
The congregation then sang Para Pedir Posada as Joseph to people on the other side of the ‘door’ who responded as the inn keeper.
Once the song had been sung and we were granted entry, the sheet was pushed aside and the crowd made its way to an open paved square with steps for sitting – and where local teenagers practice traditional dance and football passes some nights. The statue of Mary and Joseph was placed on a raised step on one of the sides of the square and the crowd sang the Christmas Novena and Christmas carols (I recognised the little drummer boy, but could not manage to navigate the Spanish in time to keep up with the singing) and recited the Lord’s Prayer.
Once the official business was complete, a party followed, with everyone in the crowd lining up to food-laden tables to receive hot chocolate or soft drink, sliced buns topped with refried beans and onions, and jelly and custard cups for dessert. The children in the crowd also received a ‘goodie’ bag of candy.
After everyone had had something to eat – there was a line that stretched around the square – a pinata was hung, and the children queued up to try to smash it with a stick. Children older than 6 were given a blindfold and twirled to make it more difficult to hit – and also to ensure all the children would get a turn to try to break it. Finally after ensuring all the children in the crowd had had a turn; it was finally broken in a shower of pottery pieces, crepe paper streamers and candy. The children all dived into the mess and emerged triumphant with wrapped candy clutched to their chests, returning to show their parents their loot.
Los posadas take place over the 9 nights to Christmas Eve, someone said this represents Mary’s pregnancy (a night per month), and is a real family affair with grandparents, parents and children of all ages taking part. Some posadas are held in certain streets in neighbourhoods – the procession knocks on several doors of non-admittance before finding the (pre-arranged) house that will allow them entry. All families in the street pitch in to make food for the celebration at the end, which can take days depending on how elaborate the final meal will be.
In Mexico, the group of fiestas over Christmas is called the Guadalupe-Reyes Marathon, and starts on December 12, and runs through to the day of “Tres Reyes Magos” which is when children receive presents from the Three Wise Men.
The celebrations linked together by the Guadalupe-Reyes Marathon are:
December 12: Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe
Every evening from December 16 to December 24: The nine Posadas parties
December 24: Last posada and Christmas Eve (Nochebuena)
December 25: Christmas
December 28: Holy Innocent’s day, which in Mexico is remembered playing practical jokes
December 31: New Year’s Eve
January 1: New Year’s Day
January 6: Day of the Three Wise Men
This festival is definitely one of my favourites so far, and I found it really touching as we all walked along the cobblestones road singing together to find somewhere to let us ‘in’.
Its definitely easy to have something to see and/or do every night in Oaxaca, but December has taken things into overdrive!