Las Posadas: Embrace Hispanic culture with a warming nine-night tradition

Line of people dressed as shepherds and other figures from the manger scene

A Las Posadas procession. Photo by Anza Trail NPS, courtesy of Flickr

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 16: The elaborate Hispanic countdown to Christmas officially begins tonight, with Las Posadas—or Posadas Navidenas—across Mexico, in Guatemala and in regions of the United States. Tantalizing dishes, merry carols and the story of the nativity has been bringing together communities in Mexico for more than 400 years, in a beloved tradition that lasts nine nights and ends on Dec. 24. Each night of Las Posadas, a small, candlelit procession travels through a neighborhood, its participants dressed like Mary, Joseph, angels and shepherds and reenacting the search for a safe place to welcome the infant Jesus. Often, musicians follow the group, as do accompanying members of the community.

Posada, Spanish for “lodging,” or “accommodation,” describes the events of Las Posadas: as the procession stops at designated houses and asks permission to stay, it is prearranged that all homeowners turn away the visitors until the host family is reached. At the home of the host family (or, in some regions, a church), the visitors are welcomed inside, and all present kneel before a nativity. Following prayer, guests feast on traditional tamales and sip ponche navideno. Children often break a star-shaped piñata, and Christmas carols are sung by all. Tamales and ponche navideno are often washed down with rompope, a Mexican drink with a taste similar to eggnog.

POSADAS NAVIDENAS: FROM AZTEC WINTERS TO THE MANGER

Glass of yellow liquid with brown powder on top, bowl of brown powder to side

Rompope, a Mexican drink similar to eggnog, is a common drink during Las Posadas nights. Photo courtesy of Prexels

Roots of the nine-day Las Posadas likely lie in the Aztec winter celebration of the sun god, which took place over nine nights; when the native peoples of Mexico were converting to Catholicism, church leaders encouraged nine nights of devotion to the parents of Jesus—focusing each evening on a month of Mary’s pregnancy.

To this day, children follow tradition in dressing the parts of Mary, Joseph, angels and shepherds, and some carry poinsettias while others sing along, often accompanied by musicians. Finally, a designated home welcomes the guests, and merrymaking ensues.

Revelries outside of Mexico vary: in the Philippines, Posadas highlights a Panunuluyan pageant, a type of play portraying the story of Mary and Joseph and recited in a local language. In Nicaragua, the event lasts only one day. In the United States, several regions hold some type of Las Posadas celebration, most often with carols, reenactments and plenty of Mexican food.

RECIPES, RESOURCES, MAKING A PINATA & MORE

Shake off the winter chill by adopting a Las Posadas tradition in your neighborhood, and invite friends over for a traditional meal of vegetable tamale pie, Tijuana chicken and warm apple empanadas. Craft a simple piñata with help from OneCharmingParty.

For recipes for tamales, rompope and more, check out an article from the Washington Post and this Pinterest page.

As a learning resource, NBC News suggests Posadas Navidenas as one of five Latino holiday traditions to share with children.

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