December 13, 2005 > Las Posadas, Celebrating Christmas 'Latino style'
Las Posadas, Celebrating Christmas 'Latino style'
by Tina Cuccia
In Mexico and in many Spanish-speaking countries in Central America, Christmas festivities begin with "Las Posadas," a nine-day candlelight procession that takes place Dec. 16 through 24 and re-enacts Joseph and Mary's quest for lodging in Bethlehem before the birth of Jesus Christ. The daily processions are followed by lively parties and merriment when the smashing of piñatas takes place releasing a shower of fruits, sugar cane, peanuts and candies.
During Las Posadas, which means "inn or shelter" in Spanish, children in villages and urban neighborhoods gather each afternoon as soon as it gets dark to take part in a procession that is led by a child dressed as an angel. "Virgen" Mar’a is often perched on a live burro and led by San José. They are followed by children portraying angels, the Santos Reyes (three kings), and pastores y pastoras (shepherds and shepherdesses), who are dressed in colorful handmade costumes and carrying brightly decorated b‡culos (walking staffs) or faroles (paper lanterns). As the children slowly walk in procession along with adults and musicians, they sing and chant special Posada songs and carry a lighted candle.
The procession of Santos Peregrinos (holy pilgrims) stops at a previously selected destination where the Holy Family sings requesting shelter for the night, but is turned away. They continue to a second destination and are turned away again. However, at their third stop, they are told that while there are no available rooms in the posada, they are invited to take shelter in a stable. Afterward, a fancy pi–ata is smashed open releasing lots of goodies and the party begins.
The nativity is left at the chosen destination each night and picked up the next day when the processional begins again. This continues for eight nights. On the ninth night, Christmas Eve, an impressive Posada takes place when an image of the Christ child is carried in by two people who are called the godparents and is laid in a tiny crib in the nacimiento.
In some Mexican cities the procession on the ninth day will start in the church courtyard, go through the community and end back at the church. In other cities, there is a live enactment of the birth of Jesus with people dressed as Mary and Joseph, shepherds with animals and children giving gifts of flowers and fruits to the infant child. The enactment ends with dancing, eating tamales and drinking hot chocolate.
The celebration of Las Posadas originated in Mexico in the 16th century when a Spaniards conquered the Aztec empire and Mexico became a colony of Spain. Catholic missionaries, who came with the conquistadores, discovered that the Aztecs celebrated the birth of their sun god Huitzilopochtli during winter solstice around the same time that Christmas is celebrated. According to the Aztec story, Huitzilopochtli was conceived supernaturally by his mother Coatlicue. His brothers did not believe her and schemed to kill her. However, Huitzilopochtli came to Coatlicue's rescue and destroyed his brothers with a fire serpent.
The Aztecs celebrated Huitzilopochtli's birth from midnight through the following day with singing, dancing and speechmaking. The Indians paraded under elaborate arches of roses, wearing their finest attire adorned with brightly tinted plumes. Special dishes were prepared, including small idols made of corn paste and cactus honey. Huge bonfires were lit in the courtyards and on the flat roofs of homes.
Because the Aztec celebration and Christmas were so similar, the missionaries decided to introduce a new religion to the Aztecs, Christianity. St. Ignatius Loyola suggested a Christmas novena or special prayers to be said on the nine successive days before Christmas. This religious novena was also later introduced in Mexico. A spirit of fun and joyful celebrations soon intermingled with the religious novena and the nine day celebration moved from the church to the community.
Las Posadas at Mission San Jose, Fremont
The celebration of Las Posadas has been a tradition at Mission San Jose, Fremont, for more than 20 years. While many communities around the Bay Area have a one- to two- day celebration of Mary and Joseph's journey to Bethlehem, the Fremont community has always enjoyed the traditional nine-day celebration.
Beginning Dec. 16, those who would like to attend are asked to meet at 6 p.m. each evening on the porch of the Mission Museum (43300 Mission Blvd). Bring warm coats and a flash light. The procession sings Christmas carols at a local business where entertainment is provided and followed by light refreshments provided by the host business or location. It's a wonderful celebration filled with Christmas spirit for family and friends.
The celebration continues through Dec. 24 as follows:
Fri - Dec. 16
Soprano Paula Harrington
43367 Mission Blvd.
Sat - Dec. 17
Von Till Law Offices
De Anza Troubadours
Katherine Von Till
152 Anza St.
Sun - Dec. 18
James Burris, Director
43326 Mission Blvd.
Mon - Dec. 19
LaTour Family Quintet
Barbara, John, Michelle Fewx; and David, Karen and Kirk McCutcheon
43505 Mission Blvd.
Tue - Dec. 20
Holy Family Auditorium
Wesley Bell Choir, First U. Methodist Church
159 Washington Blvd.
Wed - Dec. 21
Lori Stokes, Director
123 Washington Blvd.
Thurs - Dec. 22
Soprano Kristen del Rio
151 Washington Blvd.
Fri - Dec. 23
Local History Museum
Knuti Van Hoven, Director
190 Anza St.
Sat Dec. 24
Old Mission San Jose
Caroling and pi–ata
Joe Faria on piano
43266 Mission Blvd.
If you've never attended the Las Posadas celebration in Fremont, this is an experience not to be missed. Remember that the procession starts at 6 p.m. every day Dec. 16 through 24 from outside Mission San Jose (43300 Mission Blvd) and proceeds to the selected destination for that evening.
Las Posadas is sponsored by the Fremont Cultural Arts Council and Committee for Restoration of Mission San Jose. For more information, please call Laura Diaz at (510) 657-1797 x 103 or (408) 306-5596.