By Ricardo Flores Angel, Newhall Community Contributor
My father took the family to visit his relatives in Central Mexico in 1955. His hometown was a small village only six miles southeast of Mexico City, quite a contrast. We did see the tourist sites in Mexico City but most of our vacation was spent in father’s village. He took us during the Christmas season and we were very excited, but he warned us that in Mexico, Christmas is celebrated differently.
It was in father’s village that I first saw Las Posadas celebrated. Las Posadas is nine evenings of Christmas celebration. Let me explain the meaning and significance of Las Posadas. The name means the inns and the processions are a re-enactment of the journey that Joseph and Mary made in Bethlehem seeking shelter. Each night the groups make a pilgrimage to various houses, saying the rosary and asking for shelter. The owners say they have no room. Los peregrinos or pilgrims also sing Christmas hymns. The houses give out treats and hot drinks to the procession. On the final night, the homeowners invite the people in for a party, usually with a piñata for the kids.
The origin of this tradition goes far back in Catholic History, possibly as far back as the 14th Century. The Church used this pageantry to help new converts learn Christ’s teachings. The rosary encompassed the main prayers of Catholicism; the Sign of the Cross, the Apostles Creed, the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Act of Contrition and the Five Mysteries of the Rosary.
The Church in Mexico also saw the added advantage that the pageantry seemed to blend in with the Aztec Celebration to the Sun God Huitzilopochtli. Their celebration began at the same time of year and lasted nine days also. The celebration also ended with the breaking of a clay pot filled with sweets and gifts at the top of a tall pole, the contents of which were then distributed to the celebrants.
Christmas Day was spent praying in Church, fasting no feast, no presents. The presentation of gifts would occur January 6th which is el Dia de Los Reyes Magos, the Day of the Three Wise Men.
Over the years, Las Posadas has grown in popularity here in the United States. It is celebrated by the Catholic Church with mariachis, Aztec dancers, and feasts with tamales, Mexican pastries, chocolate and atole (a sweet drink similar to chocolate).