As we make our way towards Christmas so the celebrations begin. In Mexico the festive period is celebrated with posadas, a re-enactment of Mary and Joseph’s search for a place to stay in Bethlehem. Posadas are an important part of Christmas celebrations in Mexico and take place in neighbourhoods throughout the country.
The word posada means ‘inn’ in Spanish and this Christmas tradition has been celebrated in Mexico for over 400 years. Posadas are held on each of the nine nights leading up to Christmas, starting December 16th and ending on the 24th. There are nine posadas to celebrate each month of Mary’s pregnancy.
Asking for shelter
The celebration begins with a procession in which the participants hold candles and sing Christmas carols. Sometimes there will be individuals who play the parts of Mary and Joseph who lead the way, or occasionally images representing them are carried. It is decided beforehand which and how many houses do not offer a place for Mary and Joseph to stay, and where they will finally find shelter.
The procession calls at the houses of friends and neighbours and a special song called La Canción Para Pedir Posada is sung asking for a place to stay. There are two parts to the traditional posada song; those outside the house sing the part of Joseph asking for shelter and those inside respond singing the part of the innkeeper saying that there is no room. The procession then moves on to the next house where the song is repeated. This continues until finally reaching the home where the posada will be held and the innkeeper (homeowner) welcomes everyone in.
Once inside, the festivities often begin with a short Bible reading and prayer. For the children there is a colourful piñata which is normally filled with seasonal fruits, nuts, candy, toys and sometimes even money. The posada piñatas are usually star-shaped with seven conical points representing the seven deadly sins. There is also a traditional piñata-breaking song that is sung while it is whacked open with a stick.
Eat, drink, and be merry
Tamales are the typical food eaten at posadas and can be savoury or sweet. For dessert, buñuelos are eaten. These are similar to doughnuts and can also come in the form of crispy sheets. Whichever shape they take they are normally covered in sugar or cinnamon sugar syrup.
The customary drink to wash these down is warm ponche or atole. Ponche is a sweet punch made by boiling water and adding unrefined sugar, cinnamon, dried fruit and seasonal fruits such as guayaba and tejocote; a small apple-like fruit. Often brandy or rum is added, known as a piquete, for an extra kick. Atole is a corn based drink which typically includes milk, unrefined sugar, cinnamon, and other flavourings such as vanilla or chocolate.
The final posada takes place on Christmas Eve, or Noche Buena as it is called in Mexico, finishing with a delicious, extravagant dinner; and for those that can lift themselves out of their chairs after so much food, the night ends with a visit to church for Misa de Gallo, the midnight mass.