Las Posadas (Spanish for "the lodgings") is a Mexican
festival from December 16
to December 24
, which re-enacts Mary
, and their search for lodging, enacted over nine consecutive nights.
The biblical passage which justifies such a celebration is that of Luke 2:7 "And so it was, that while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn."
Commemoration for the journey to Bethlehem (to pay taxes, no less) was first suggested in the 16th century by St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556), in the form of novena, prayers to be spoken on nine successive days. In 1580, St. John of the Cross (1542-1591) turned prayer into pageant, and in 1587, the practice was introduced to the First Nations people of México by the Spanish missionaries. Eventually the practice was assimilated by the community, and became a processional. Las Posadas, once only celebrated in Mexico, is now celebrated in many other countries, notably in some of the United States of America.
The first eight evenings of Las Posadas begin with a procession which begins around dusk, led by a child dressed as an angel with two other children following, holding pictures or figures of Mary and Joseph on a small litter, called an Anda. These children are followed by other children, then adults, then the musicians, the lot carrying faroles and candles, singing alguinaldos (carols), and generally making noise. The procession contiues until it reaches a predetermined house (usually tenement housing with a courtyard), where the company divides, and one side (representing the peregrinos, or pilgrims) asks the other (representing the innkeepers) for lodging, and is initially refused, but upon pleading their case, is welcomed inside. Once inside, the company prays, then in a very Mexican way, heads out to the patio for a celebration of food, fireworks, and a candy-stuffed piñatas.
The ninth evening, being Christmas Eve, is a particularly impressive procession, where the person representing Mary may ride on a donkey, and the figure of the baby Jesus is laid in a crib in a manger, to symbolize the nacimiento, or birth. Here, some of the children lay down fruit and flowers in tribute, then shepherds appear, played by other youth, with their herd. Dance and feasting ensue, followed by a midnight mass.