By Steve Walker
This coming Tuesday, December 16th, San Antonio begins the nine days of Las Posadas celebration. Believed to have its origins in Spain and now celebrated chiefly in Mexico, Guatemala and many portions of the Southwest in the U.S., it will run until around 8 p.m. on Christmas Eve.
For those who don’t speak Spanish like myself, Posada is Spanish for "lodging," or "accommodation.” It is said in plural because it is celebrated more than one day in that period. The nine-day novena represents the nine months of pregnancy, specifically the pregnancy of Mary carrying Jesus.
According to history, the procedure has been a tradition in Mexico for 400 years. While its roots are in Catholicism, many Protestant Latinos follow the tradition.
It is believed to have been started in the 16th century by Friar Pedro de Gante, along with fellow Friars who combined Spanish Catholicism with the December Aztec celebration of the birth of Huitzilopochtli.
According to the Aztec religion, Huitzilopochtli is a Mesoamerican deity of war, sun, human sacrifice and the patron of the city of Tenochtitlan. He was also the national god of the Mexicas, also known as Aztecs, of Tenochtitlan.
Latin American countries have continued to celebrate this holiday, with very few changes to the tradition. In some places, the final location may be a church instead of a home.
Individuals may actually play the various parts of Mary and Joseph with the expectant mother riding a real donkey. Attendants such as angels and shepherds acquired along the way, or the pilgrims, may carry images of the holy personages instead. Children may carry poinsettias.
The procession is followed by musicians, with the entire procession singing posadas such as pedir posada. (Song traditionally sung in the Posadas) At the end of each night's journey, there will be Christmas carols, also known as villancios. Children break open star-shaped Piñatas to obtain candy and fruit hidden inside, followed by a feast. The Piñatas are traditionally made out of clay, however clay has been replaced with paper mache.
In Wisconsin the procession may occur within a home, rather than outside, because of the weather. In Portland, Oregon the event terminates with Santa Claus and donated gifts for the needy. In New York worshippers may drink Atole, a corn–sugar drink traditionally during Christmas.
In keeping with the tradition of mixing family and community, the city of San Antonio hosts a large procession that occurs along the San Antonio River Walk which has been held since 1966. It is also held across large landmarks to include the Arneson River Theater, Museo Alameda and the Spanish Governor’s Palace.
I have fond memories from a number of years ago, standing on the River Walk as the procession passed by me.
With our hometowns’ rich tradition of celebrating Las Posadas leading up to Christmas, I wish you “Feliz Navidad” echoing the words of a 1970s song written by Puerto Rican singer-songwriter Jose Feliciano.
And as always, I write just a thought.
Steve Walker is a Viet Nam Veteran, former Journalist and Justice of the Peace.