Hispanic faithful reenact Christmas tradition of Las Posadas


By Kenneth J. Souza
Anchor Staff
kensouza@anchornews.org

FALL RIVER, Mass. — One of the more beautiful and lasting Christmas traditions among Hispanic Catholics is the celebration of “Las Posadas.”

Similar to the idea of a Living Nativity, these staged reenactments recall the pilgrimage of the Holy Family from Nazareth to Bethlehem, and how hard it was for them to find a place to rest despite Mary’s advanced pregnancy.

posadas

With songs, those accompanying “the Holy Pilgrims” — typically youth portraying Joseph and the pregnant Mary riding on a donkey — represent the act of knocking on the door of a house requesting posada, or lodging, saying “En el nombre del cielo, os pido posada.”

Those inside keep turning them down. They go back and forth several stanzas until the house hosting the posada finally opens the doors, welcoming in the pilgrims and accompanying crowd. 

The community then prays the Rosary together and, after, the host showers visitors with typical foods and hot drinks such as chocolate, atole o champurreado. Children — sometimes adults as well — normally walk out with an “aguinaldo,” a bag usually containing oranges, peanuts and candy. In the United States, this Mexican tradition has extended to many other Latin-American communities, perhaps due to identification with the migration experience of the Holy Family.

The tradition has been kept alive each year at the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette in Attleboro, where the reenactment was again performed on Sunday, December 23.

“It begins at the church and they have drummers, they have guitarists and singers,” said Father Ted Brown, M.S., director of La Salette Shrine. “And they pretty much pick out their own route here at the shrine. It’s a call-and-response type of thing, where one group sings something to the effect of, ‘We’re Mary and Joseph on our way to Bethlehem,’ and the other group will sing: ‘No, there’s no room for you here!’ Then they move on to another building.”

Father Ted said the traveling procession culminates at the shrine’s outdoor Nativity scene.

“This will continue until they reach the outdoor chapel where our life-sized manger is and all the kids who are dressed as shepherds and everything else go inside and stand by the statues of their counterparts,” he said. “There are all these little kids dressed as sheep — it’s just a lot of fun.”

At St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Attleboro, the celebration of Las Posadas this year was more akin to a nine-day Novena, which was prayed nightly at 7 p.m. from December 16 through December 23, according to parochial vicar Father German Correa Agudelo.

“We celebrate posadas every day at St. Vincent de Paul,” Father German told The Anchor. “We celebrate with all nationalities — Honduras, El Salvador, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Venezuela, Guatemala, and the United States.”

Although they didn’t celebrate it this Christmas, the parishioners at Our Lady of Guadalupe at St. James Church in New Bedford have hosted a similar Novena-like version of Las Posadas in recent years.

“The groups would gather at different homes and sing a beautiful song, one outside and one inside,” said pastor Father Craig Pregana. “We usually had kids who were dressed up as Mary and Joseph outside, and they would ask for posada — a place to stay. And people would respond in song with ‘Yes, please come in.’”

Some of the translated stanzas from the traditional Spanish posada song include the beautiful lyrics: “In the name of Heaven
I ask you for shelter, for my beloved wife can go no farther. We are worn out,
all the way from Nazareth. I am a carpenter
named Joseph. We request lodging,
dear innkeeper,
for only one night
for the Queen of Heaven. My wife is Mary. She is the Queen of Heaven,
and she will be mother
to the Divine Word.”

In past years, Deacon Frank Lucca has also performed Las Posadas with the youth council at St. Dominic’s Parish in Swansea.

“My understanding is the tradition in Europe is it’s done outdoors and they literally go from house to house,” Deacon Lucca said. “We brought it inside to our parish center. But it’s not a presentation where you sit and watch something. There are Scripture readings as the troop moves from door to door, seeking shelter with Mary and Joseph. It continues to grow, so as they pass by people in the audience, they join in so by the time it’s done you have this massive line of people moving from door to door to door.”

Deacon Lucca explained that as the readings recount the story of that holy night, children from the parish Faith Formation program and members of the Youth Council would act out the drama as it unfolded.

“As the program continued, you would hear lessons from the Bible followed by songs that bring the point closer to home,” he said.

The origins of Las Posadas in the United States can be traced back to the Franciscan priests and monks who first set up Church missions in the American southwest.

“The Franciscans were teachers of the faith and they sought out ways to teach simple, humble people the mysteries of the Catholic faith,” Deacon Lucca said. “Their posadas celebrated the mystery of Salvation found in the Old Testament’s prophecies of the Messiah and how Jesus is the fulfillment of those prophecies. It recalled Joseph and Mary’s search for a shelter where Mary would give birth to her Son, Jesus.

“Everyone should remember Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter on the night Jesus was born and also remember those who today are homeless and seeking shelter.”


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