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The Posada

¡Feliz Navidad!

     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.