Celebrating Las Posadas: “Enter Pilgrims; I Did Not Recognize You.”

People dressed as Mary and Joseph walk down a Chicago street during a celebration of Las Posadas. (CNS/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)
People dressed as Mary and Joseph walk down a Chicago street during a celebration of Las Posadas. (CNS/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)

While La Lupe did teach us to love Nuestra Virgen de Guadalupe, the celebration of Las Posadas was never something she passed down. Over the years I have attended several Posadas celebrations, and they were awesome. Las Posadas (Spanish word for the shelters or the inns) happens from December 16-24. It is a novena leading up to Christmas. (A novena consists of prayers repeated every day for nine days.) And for someone like me who always gets caught off guard by Advent, at this point in December, I have warmed up and am ready to joyfully anticipate Christ’s birth.

Every night during these days, family and friends gather at different homes to reenact the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. Someone dresses up like an angel and leads two others dressed up as Mary and Joseph with everyone else following behind them. Mary and Joseph knock and ask for shelter at three different places around the home. Each time they are rejected by the family whose home it is and sent away. Then they return to the first place they knocked (the home’s front door), and finally they are recognized as carrying our Savior and welcomed in. Throughout the whole drama, singing happens back and forth between those outside asking for shelter and those inside refusing it. The traditional lyrics for the celebration are beautiful. Here’s a sample:

Outside: In the name of Heaven, I beg you for lodging, for she cannot walk, my beloved wife.
Inside: This is not an inn so keep going. I cannot open. You may be a criminal.

What I love about this celebration is that, for the most part, it is simple and straightforward. All you need are the lyrics, a few simple costumes, and some friends who aren’t shy about singing. Las Posadas is a way to physically enter into the story of Jesus’ birth. As you sing you can ask yourself:

  • Am I aware of those in need around me who are begging for help?
  • Do I see Jesus in the disguise of the poor?
  • Is my heart open to Jesus or do I reject Him when he knocks?
  • Do I reflect Mary’s love and sacrifice for the baby in her womb?
  • In reflecting on my actions this year, am I on a journey toward Christ?
  • Have I made room for Jesus in my life?

This is a great (and very liturgical) alternative to a traditional Christmas party. While I love me some Pinterest, you can ignore it for Las Posadas. This is meant to be a simple pilgrimage. No fuss. Some tamales, ponche, everyone brings a side dish and buñuelos, and we all call it a day. Oh, and kids get to break a star-shaped piñata at the end just for good measure.

While we will probably only go to the Posadas celebration at our church, next year I plan on starting this tradition with our family and friends.

If you are interested in celebrating this tradition (it’s not too late!) here is a good resource to get you started.