Nine days of Las Posadas

Nine days of Las Posadas:

Mexican Christmas Customs

LaPosadas1 December 16 to 24

By Tara Spears

In Mexico, the holiday season picks up momentum with the celebration of Las Posadas from December 16th to Christmas Eve. Traditionally, children perform the ‘Posada’ processions and families gather for fiestas. (Spanish for inn or lodging.) The Posadas days celebrate the part of the Christmas story where Joseph and Mary looked for a room in an inn but were turned away. For the Posadas, the outside of houses are decorated with evergreens, moss and paper lanterns. Inside, the usual holiday decoration is the nativity scene, El Nacimiento.

The focal point, naturally, is a stable where clay or plaster figurines of the Holy Family are sheltered. The scene may be further populated by an angel, Los Reyes Magos (the Magi), the ox and the ass, shepherds and their flocks, and assorted other people and livestock. It is not unusual to also find the forces of evil represented by a serpent and a grotesque Lucifer lurking in the shadows. The figures may be simply positioned in a bed of heno (Spanish moss), or scattered throughout an elaborate landscape. 

LaPosadas2A major masterpiece may occupy an entire room, often near the front of the house for convenient viewing by neighbors and passersby. The creation of the basic landscape begins with papel roca (paper painted in earth tones) draped over tables, taped onto boxes, crushed and shaped to form a multi-leveled, natural looking terrain that frequently includes a series of hills and dales, a cellophane waterfall, a mirror pond, artificial trees, cacti, palm trees, and little houses set to form an entire village scene. Colored sawdust and a variety of natural mosses may be spread out as ground cover before the addition of strings of Christmas lights and the assorted human and animal figures. The scene will not be completed until Christmas Eve when the newborn Baby Jesus is finally laid in the manger bed.

Today, a decorated Christmas tree may be incorporated in the Nacimiento or set up elsewhere in the home. As purchase of a natural pine represents a luxury commodity to most Mexican families, the typical arbolito (little tree) is often an artificial one, a bare branch cut from a copal tree (Bursera microphylla) or some type of shrub collected from the countryside, decorated with paper hand-made flowers.

Incidentally, Santa Claus and reindeer on the roof do not generally figure in the scheme of Navidad in this predominately tropical country. A Mexican youngster’s holiday wish list is directed instead to el Niño Dios (the Holy Child) for Christmas Eve and the Reyes Magos (Magi) for Three Kings Day, which are the gift giving occasions. According to internet records, the world’s largest angel ornament was made in Mexico. It was made in January 2001 by Sergio Rodriguez in the town of Nuevo León. The angel was 18′ 3″ (6 meters) high and had wing span of 11′ 9″ (4 meters)! Perhaps the most amazing thing about the angel was that it was completely made out of old beer bottles, 2,946 of them!! Humm, maybe this could become a new retired gringo tradition…. make your own recycled ornaments.

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