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Las Posadas: A Mexican Christmas Tradition View Comments
By PHOTOS BY DAVID MAUNG, TEXT BY CHRISTOPHER HEFFRON

A statue of Mary is carried by a group leader. Sometimes Las Posadas participants dress up as the Holy Family.

The story of Christ’s birth has been told and retold so many times it could have lost its luster generations ago. But it hasn’t—not even close. If anything, in this world of war, famine and natural disasters, holding on to something as simple and as singularly important as the Nativity story is a necessity to our faith.

And perhaps nowhere on earth is the Nativity story told with more flourish and faith-based exuberance than in the annual celebration of Las Posadas, a tradition held throughout Mexico and Guatemala.

A holy history lesson: The roots of Las Posadas stretch deeply into Latin culture. It originated in Spain, but it’s been a yearly celebration throughout Mexico for over 400 years. The tradition commemorates Mary and Joseph’s difficult journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem in search of a warm place to stay the night. (Posadas is Spanish for “lodgings” or “accommodations.”)

Beginning on December 16 and ending nine days later, on December 24, Las Posadas commemorates the nine months of Mary’s pregnancy. Each night, one family agrees to house the pilgrims. And so it begins: At dusk, a procession of the faithful takes to the streets with children often dressed as angels and shepherds. Religious figures, images and lighted candles are a part of the festivities.

The group representing the Holy Family stands outside a series of houses, singing songs, asking for lodging. They are refused time and again until the group reaches the designated house. Finally, the travelers are permitted to enter. Prayer and song continue in the home, and festive foods are shared. The evening ends with a piñata in the shape of star.

The tradition continues each evening with a different house as the chosen Posadas. The last night—Christmas Eve—usually features a midnight Mass. The nine days of Las Posadas is more than just a feel-good tradition: It deepens faith and strengthens ties within the community at a holy time.

Just as Mary and Joseph faced the cold weather—and even colder innkeepers that night—participants brave the elements in bringing their love for the Christ Child to their streets. Las Posadas isn’t about being somber and still during Christmas: It’s about pilgrims and a pilgrimage, rousing song, prayer and deep faith—all of it in motion.



David Maung has been a photojournalist for 25 years, focusing on social and political issues in Mexico and Central America. He lives in Tijuana, Mexico, where he coordinates photography workshops and is working on several photo documentary projects. Christopher Heffron is an assistant editor of this publication.

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All Saints: The earliest certain observance of a feast in honor of all the saints is an early fourth-century commemoration of "all the martyrs." In the early seventh century, after successive waves of invaders plundered the catacombs, Pope Boniface IV gathered up some 28 wagonloads of bones and reinterred them beneath the Pantheon, a Roman temple dedicated to all the gods. The pope rededicated the shrine as a Christian church. According to Venerable Bede, the pope intended "that the memory of all the saints might in the future be honored in the place which had formerly been dedicated to the worship not of gods but of demons" (<i>On the Calculation of Time</i>). 
<p>But the rededication of the Pantheon, like the earlier commemoration of all the martyrs, occurred in May. Many Eastern Churches still honor all the saints in the spring, either during the Easter season or immediately after Pentecost. </p><p>How the Western Church came to celebrate this feast, now recognized as a solemnity, in November is a puzzle to historians. The Anglo-Saxon theologian Alcuin observed the feast on November 1 in 800, as did his friend Arno, Bishop of Salzburg. Rome finally adopted that date in the ninth century.</p> American Catholic Blog Touch can be an act of kindness when someone is dying. If you visit a sick person and find that you are at a loss for words, reach out and touch her hand.

 
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