JACKSON – One of the most popular Latin American Christmas traditions is a nine-day celebration called “Las Posadas.” “Posada” means “inn” or “shelter.” This tradition is a reenactment of Mary and Joseph’s attempt to find lodging before the birth of Jesus. Posadas are celebrated in different countries, so there are variations within each respective culture.
Traditionally, las posadas begin the night of Dec. 16 and end on the night of Dec. 24, which commemorates Mary’s nine months of carrying Jesus in the womb. Eight families volunteer to host the posada at their home and the last night is hosted at the church. Each night, a nativity scene is carried by a group of people; they represent Joseph and Mary, along with a crowd of angels, shepherds and wise men. The group carries candles and sings an interactive song of begging for shelter outside of each of the houses. The group on the inside of the home represents the innkeepers and sing back, refusing to open the door.
Some of the dialogue of the song includes:
Outside crowd: In the name of Heaven I beg you for lodging, for she cannot walk, my beloved wife.
Innkeepers: This is not an inn so keep going. I cannot open, you may be a rogue.
Outside crowd: Don’t be inhumane; have mercy on us. The God of heavens will reward you for it.
Innkeepers: You can go on now and don’t bother us, because if I become annoyed, I’ll give you a beating.
Outside crowd: We are worn out coming from Nazareth. I am a carpenter, Joseph by name.
Innkeepers: I don’t care about your name. Let me sleep because I already told you, we shall not open up.
Outside crowd: I’m asking you for lodging dear man of the house. Just for one night for the Queen of Heaven.
Innkeepers: Well, if it’s a queen, who solicits it, why is it at night that she travels so alone?
Outside crowd: My wife is Mary. She’s the Queen of Heaven and she’s going to be the mother of the Divine Word.
Innkeepers: Are you Joseph? Your wife is Mary? Enter, pilgrims; I did not recognize you.
Outside crowd: May God pay, gentle folks, your charity, and thus heaven heap happiness upon you.
Inkeepers: Blessed is the house that shelters this day the pure Virgin, the beautiful Mary.
The song continues but during the last verse, the doors are opened and everyone makes their way inside. The song then transitions to a joyful song of welcoming. Usually, a Rosary is prayed once everyone is packed inside. Other times, the Bible is read and there is a time for reflection. The host family typically provides some type of drink or food that can range from a snack to a full meal. One popular choice is the atole; a hot drink made from corn or wheat flour and milk, but a local favorite is arroz con leche, a hot drink made with rice, milk and cinnamon.
“Celebrating las posadas is a beautiful tradition in the Latino/Hispanic culture and I am thankful that the opportunity to experience this tradition is available in towns throughout Mississippi,” says Daisey Martínez, Associate for Youth and Young Adult Ministry for Intercultural Ministry at the Diocese of Jackson.
Las Posadas is a time to draw attention to our own journey to find room for Jesus at Christmas as well as participate in and honor a rich tradition of Latinos.
(Daisey Martinez contributed to this story)