Holiday Parties in Mexico are called Posadas (Poh-Sa-das). This is a tradition that started in colonial Mexico and has carried on since then. They were originally held in the nine days or “novena” before Christmas Eve symbolizing the nine months of the Virgin Mary’s pregnancy. However, starting December 1st for most Mexicans, it is posada season.
Most likely if you live in Mexico you would surely be invited to your company’s posada, your friends’ posadas, your family’s posada, your spouse’s family posada, your kid’s school posada…you get the point. Mexicans will find any excuse to throw a party, and Christmas time is no exception. But the real meaning of a “Posada” and what it actually represents, is something worth preserving.
“Posada” means “inn” or “shelter” and “pedir posada” means “to ask for lodging or shelter.” In a Posada, we remember how Mary and Joseph had to go from house to house asking for available lodging in Bethlehem for their son to be born. In a typical Posada, at some point, the guests divide into two groups. One group stays inside the house and the other outside. They are given candles and they start singing a two-part song in chorus that goes back and forth representing the dialog between Joseph and the various tenants that deny lodging to him and Mary until the last verse of the song where the tenant lets the expectant couple in. The group that was outside the house, cheerfully sings its way in and the “posada part” of the Posada is accomplished!
Another highlight of the night is the food. Since I am writing for a San Antonio crowd you may have already tried if not love, a lot of what is offered in a Posada. The main dish can vary. You may encounter tacos, tamales or even pozole (a soup with shredded meat and hominy). But most likely posadas will have hot chocolate, churros (fried batter in the form of a cylinder with sugar and cinnamon), cotton candy, buñuelos (fried batter in the form of a thin star with sugar and cinnamon), ponche (hot fruit drink with spices), atole (thicker corn-based hot drink), and esquites (corn in a cup). I would recommend eating all of the above first and then if you are still hungry, go for the main dish.
If it’s a posada where there are kids, at some point there will be a “pastorela” which is a representation of the Nativity scene. Depending on the hostess’ organizational skills and the willingness of the little ones to participate, this part can run smoothly like a Broadway play or choppy and full of mistakes and laughs. It’s usually the latter.
Piñatas will make an entrance and flare lights (luces de bengala) will appear when it’s dark. I remember my parents carrying my siblings and I half asleep to the car, way past our bedtime when the posada was over. It was surely a busy season for my parents, but as a kid your mind only captures the exciting moments, and that’s what makes it more magical.
Posadas in my life evolved from pastorelas and villancicos (carol singing) to parties with friends that used the excuse of a posada to get together. I used to complain that I had so many holiday events and no time to relax and now I look at my blank calendar with nostalgia and I wish I had many posadas scheduled in the coming season.
I am grateful I live in a city that embraces and celebrates many of our Mexican traditions. Churches around San Antonio have Christmas celebrations that resemble the big “kermesses” or festivals that I used to go to in Guadalajara. But this year holiday celebrations will be somewhat different.
If I want my kids to experience singing “the posada song” and participate in a pastorela then it will fall on me to host a house posada. The celebration may be more intimate and small but the meaning and the tradition will all be there.
I guess I realized that even with a pandemic going on, the magic of this season is still there, but it is up to us to make it happen. It doesn’t matter what type of celebration your family celebrates, or what culture, because all cultures have something beautiful to be preserved. Now more than ever the holiday season gives us an opportunity to filter what’s important and what’s worth celebrating.
Posadas were something that I had without thinking about it. Someone else was responsible for making them happen and I just enjoyed them.
Now I have to think if I want to bring them back into my life, into my children’s lives.
That mom that handed out the sheets of paper with the posada lyrics, is now me.
That dad that carried out the piñata and organized the little kids, is now my husband.
The hands that made the hot chocolate are now my hands.
And the arms that once carried me half asleep when the posada was over, are now my arms.