Growing up in South Texas, my childhood was peppered with the colorful traditions of my Mexican heritage. Listening to mariachis at every restaurant, funeral, and midnight mass, learning folklorico dancing in my Catholic elementary, being constantly patted by old women to ward off el ojo, the evil eye. The vibrant mixture of religion and Mexican folk culture is something I’ve missed since leaving the Rio Grande Valley six years ago.
There have been quite a few discussions on the Bloggernacle lately about holiday traditions. Reading about your traditions inspired me to look up my own personal favorite and see if it existed anywhere nearby. So I googled “candlelight posada” and the entire first page of entries that popped up referred me to McAllen, my hometown. Years ago, as a sullen high school student waiting to leave my podunk town, I would have never dreamed that McAllen had the corner on the market of such a beautiful Christmas experience.
Las Posadas originated in Mexican village culture hundreds of years ago and continues on in those villages, as well as in urban neighborhoods and citywide events. The idea is beautifully simple. For nine nights, beginning on December 16, neighbors gather together and assume the role of Los Peregrinos, pilgrims who will follow a tiny Joseph and Mary, played proudly by children selected from the village. Joseph leads Mary, seated on a burro, from inn (posada) to inn, searching for a place to stay the night, as the pilgrims follow with lit candles and song.
Each night, the candlelit procession approaches three homes. They knock on the door and sing the traditional song:
En el nombre del cielo,
yo os pido posada,
pues no puede andar,
mi esposa amada.
(In the name of heaven, I beg you for lodging. My beloved wife cannot walk.)
The innkeeper answers:
Aqua no es mesón,
no les puedo abrir,
no vaya a ser un tunante.
(This is not an inn so keep going. I cannot let you in, you may be a rogue.)
Turned away, the pilgrims move to the next house, where this song is repeated and again, the door is closed on them. The humble procession trudges on down the road, their faces illuminated by flickering candlelight. Perhaps getting caught up in their roles or maybe experiencing deep empathy, at this point the crowd seems more silent and reflective and their steps become slower. At the third house, Joseph pleads with the innkeeper, telling him that this woman will be the Queen of Heaven, for he is Jose, she is Maria, and the child to be born will be the Divine Word. The innkeeper welcomes them in, and he and the pilgrims burst into a song of rejoicing:
Entren Santos Peregrinos,
Reciban este rincón,
que aunque es pobre la morada,
os las doy de corazón.
(Enter, Holy Pilgrims, and receive this corner. Though this dwelling is poor, I offer it with all my heart.)
The song continues, proclaiming the honor the innkeeper feels in welcoming this Holy Family. The pilgrims enter the home and kneel to pray with their hosts. After prayer, carols are sung and the party begins. The family who has been honored with the role of third innkeeper (usually a wealthier family) has prepared the home with decorations, music and a grand feast of dulces, tamales, and punch. The children flock to the piñata and scramble for the prizes as their parents sip chocolate and share village gossip.
This repeats itself each night until Christmas Eve, when at the end of the posada, the neighbors gather in one final candlelit procession that ends at the church where Midnight Mass will be celebrated.
Memories of this tradition warm my heart more than listening to Christmas carols on CD or putting lights up on my house. The idea of a community, of neighbors, gathering together to remember the night of Christ’s birth, to feel rejection and celebration, to have their richest honored to serve their poorest and the poorest able to bless a home with song and prayer, to rejoice wildly and then to worship reverently, what a beautiful journey that is.