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There’s No Mexican Christmas Without Posadas: We Rounded Up 11 Facts About Them That You Probably Never Knew About

For many Latinos, the word posada, evokes chilly nights surrounded by family and friends, singing, enjoying a warm meal (of tamales and ponche, of course), and spreading holiday cheer all around. If you have never been lucky enough to be invited to one of these celebrations, read on to find out a few facts that will explain what posadas are all about.

1. The word posada literally means ‘inn or lodging’, and traditionally posadas are a celebration of the Christmas story.

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Posadas involve a reenactment of Joseph and Mary’s search for a shelter where the Virgin Mary could safely give birth to Jesus in Bethlehem.

2. Posadas are a distinctly Mexican Catholic tradition, which is also celebrated all over Latin America and even across the world.

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The tradition has spread to places like Colombia, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salavador, and many other Latin American countries, but it originated in Mexico as a Spanish celebration used by friars to convert indigenous people into Catholicism.

3. Posadas are a  celebration of the novenario before christmas.

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‘Novenario’ means nine days, which means that posadas take place during the nine days before Christmas Eve. The none days running up to Christmas, represent the nine months of The Virgin Mary’s pregnancy. In Colombia, this period of time is called ‘La Novena’, and it‘s turned into a celebration similar to posadas but that in Colombia, Venezela and Ecuador is known as ‘La Novena de Aguinaldos’.

4. Posadas in Mexico began as a way for the Spaniards to teach native people about Christmas.

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During the nine days leading up to Christmas Day, masses would include representations of Mary and Joseph. Following mass, there would be a party where people were blindfolded before hitting a piñata with a stick, a representation of faith defeating temptation with the help of virtue. The fruits and sweets that poured out of the piñata represented the joys of union with God.

5. At the beginning of a posada, people are divided in two groups, the ones “outside” representing Mary and Joseph, and the ones “inside” representing innkeepers.

Then everyone sings the posada litany together, re-enacting Mary and Joseph’s search, going back and forth until they are finally “admitted” to an inn. After this traditional part, the actual party starts. Posadas have spread to other countries — such as Guatemala, Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela; and the celebrations vary by location.

6. Piñatas are a quintessential part of posadas.

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Although they have mostly lost their original religious meaning, piñatas remain an essential part of las posadas. Mexico. Piñatas come in all shapes and sizes, but star shaped pinatas are the ones traditionally used in posadas. In fact, these star-shaped piñata’s 7 points represent the seven deadly sins. Most Mexicans are catholic and piñatas were a way to teach children about religion in a fun way. Piñatas represent being tempted by evil and the tradition of hitting them blindfolded symbolizes overcoming evil through blind faith.

7. Posadas are the occasion when moms and abuelas finally make the delicious ”Ponche Navideño” or Mexican Christmas Punch.

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A hot, flavorful drink that for many is synonymous with the holidays. Its ingredients vary from state to state, but it is traditionally prepared with tejocote (Mexican hawthorn), sugarcane, tamarind, apple, pear, guayaba, and cinnamon sticks. Some hosts will also offer their adult guests ponche con piquete – punch with a sting of alcohol, usually tequila or rum.

8. The posada litany is a traditional sung exchange that abuelas remember by heart and have passed down to younger generations since time immemorial.

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The traditional song which both “sides” of the reenactment sing while holding candles asking for ‘posada’ goes a little like this: “Eeeen el nombre del cieeeelo, ooos pido posaaaada (note the emphasis on the vowels, if you grew up singing these, you’ll know), pueees no puede andaaar mi esposa amada” (In the name of God I ask you for shelter for my beloved wife can’t go on) begin the Joseph and Mary group: the inne keepers reply denying them entry.

9. At the end of the litany, when the innkeeper finally decides to give Mary and Joseph a place to stay; both parties celebrate.

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As per tradition, the pilgrims carry colored candles and sparklers that symbolize the light that leads the way to the manger, and everyone gets to light sparklers in celebration at the end of the litany. After the litanies and the pilgrimage are over, everyone goes back to the house, where the real party starts.

10. The traditional “aguinaldo“ or ‘goodie bag’ that children get at Mexican birthday parties, originated from posadas.

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So they say, that thanks to Friar, Diego de Soria, the first posadas were celebrated in colonial Mexico around the year 1587. Back then, they used to celebrate “misas de aguinaldo” (Christmas mass), which were called like that because on these masses they offered a gift or Christmas box to the kids; this consisted of fruits, candies or toys. On the posadas the “aguinaldo” is represented by snacks, and even up to this day, kids can still expect a little aguinaldo at the end of the party.

11. Posadas were a means to convert indigenous peoples to Christianity.

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It’s said that posadas go all the way back to the time when the indigenous people celebrated during the winter or panquetzaliztli the advent of Huitzilopochtli, God of the War. For centuries, the Aztecs celebrated the birth of their god Huitzilopochtil around Christmas time. Huitzilopochtil was an important god of war who led the Aztec’s ancestors to the valley of mexico in what is now Mexico City.

Seeing the similarities between Christmas and Huitzilopochtil’s birth, Augustine priests were able to gradually convert the natives to Christianity. They realized that they couldn’t eradicate the holiday, but instead use it to gain new converts. This strategy also worked with Day of the Dead, as it was a former indigenous holiday turned catholic celebration coinciding with all saints day.

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