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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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Philip Neri: Philip Neri was a sign of contradiction, combining popularity with piety against the background of a corrupt Rome and a disinterested clergy, the whole post-Renaissance malaise. 
<p>At an early age, he abandoned the chance to become a businessman, moved to Rome from Florence and devoted his life and individuality to God. After three years of philosophy and theology studies, he gave up any thought of ordination. The next 13 years were spent in a vocation unusual at the time—that of a layperson actively engaged in prayer and the apostolate. </p><p>As the Council of Trent (1545-63) was reforming the Church on a doctrinal level, Philip’s appealing personality was winning him friends from all levels of society, from beggars to cardinals. He rapidly gathered around himself a group of laypersons won over by his audacious spirituality. Initially they met as an informal prayer and discussion group, and also served poor people in Rome. </p><p>At the urging of his confessor, he was ordained a priest and soon became an outstanding confessor, gifted with the knack of piercing the pretenses and illusions of others, though always in a charitable manner and often with a joke. He arranged talks, discussions and prayers for his penitents in a room above the church. He sometimes led “excursions” to other churches, often with music and a picnic on the way. </p><p>Some of his followers became priests and lived together in community. This was the beginning of the Oratory, the religious institute he founded. A feature of their life was a daily afternoon service of four informal talks, with vernacular hymns and prayers. Giovanni Palestrina was one of Philip’s followers, and composed music for the services. </p><p>The Oratory was finally approved after suffering through a period of accusations of being an assembly of heretics, where laypersons preached and sang vernacular hymns! (Cardinal Newman founded the first English-speaking house of the Oratory three centuries later.) </p><p>Philip’s advice was sought by many of the prominent figures of his day. He is one of the influential figures of the Counter-Reformation, mainly for converting to personal holiness many of the influential people within the Church itself. His characteristic virtues were humility and gaiety.</p> American Catholic Blog We need do no more than we are doing at present; that is, to love divine Providence and abandon ourselves in his arms and heart.<br />—St. Padre Pio

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