La Posada, the remarkable buildup to Christmas Eve, is perhaps the
most delightful and unique Mexican tradition. Beginning December
16th, it commemorates the events in the journey of Mary and Joseph
from Nazareth to Bethlehem. The posadas are nine days of
fiestas, running through December 24, and there are nine because
they symbolize Mary’s nine months of pregnancy.
After dark, each night of the posada, a procession begins led by two
children. The children carry a small Nativity scene or
Nacimiento, or sometimes they dress up like Joseph and Mary to make
the representation more realistic. Other members of the
company follow carrying lighted candles and singing the “Litany of
the Virgin” as they approach the first house assigned. They
all chant an old traditional song and awaken the mast of the house
to ask lodging for Mary. Those within the house threaten the company
with beatings unless they move on. Again, the company pleads for
admittance. When the owner of the house finally learns who his
guests are, he jubilantly opens the doors and welcomes them.
Beforehand they decide which and how many houses will not offer a
place where Mary and Joseph can stay, and where they will
finally find shelter. Here, they all kneel around the Nativity
scene and offer songs of welcome, Ave Marias and a prayer.
After this, it’s time to break the piñata, have refreshments and
dance. The piñata is hung from a tree or the ceiling.
One by one, each person is blindfolded, turned around and instructed
to strike the piñata, while everybody else encourages them by
singing the traditional piñata song. Several attempts are
made before the piñata is broken, and when this happens, candies
come flying out and people rush to try to get as many as they can.
Although the custom of putting up a Christmas tree has become very
popular, the real Mexican tradition consists of setting up a
Nativity scene. These scenes are set up on December 16, but
the figure of the Baby Jesus is not put into the manger until
December 24. This is when another verse is added to the Ave
Marias, telling the Virgin Mary that the desired night has come. The
Three Kings are added on January 5.
Christmas Eve, or Noche Buena as it is called in Mexico, is
celebrated on December 24. This is an essentially family day, which
begins with the last posada. At midnight, devout worshipers
attend the famous masses that are called Misa de Gallo or Mass of
the Rooster. Following mass, families return home for a
delicious, sumptuous dinner of traditional Mexican foods.
Christmas Day has no special celebration though many have adopted
the American style Christmas with a Christmas tree and Santa Claus.
Children wake up to find under the tree the gifts they asked Santa
Claus for. This is a relatively new (some 50 years old),
addition to our Christmas season. Before, gifts were only
exchanged on January 6, Dia de los Reyes Magos.