Monday, December 17, 2007

Una Identidad Sin Fronteras: Posadas

Today, December 17th, marks the second day in another example of centuries worth of cultural synergy in action - Las Posadas. It is a cultural tradition that gave birth to many iconic aspects of modern Latin@ culture.

Within a decade of the appearance of La Virgen de Guadalupe in Tenochtitlan, Roman Catholic missionaries were working on supplanting the Aztec celebration of the birth of their sun deity Huitzilopchtli, which occurred during the (European) month of December, with one that was more Christian in nature. St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit Order, received permission from Rome to institute a nine day period of prayer leading up to Christmas in the "New World". Now commonly known as a novena, each day for this particular novena was to signify the nine months of Mary's pregnancy.

Las Posadas, which means the Inns in English, is the reenactment of Mary and Joseph's experience when they arrived in Belén.

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. - Luke 2:1-8
Each night of Las Posadas, processions of candle-carrying pilgrims make their way in song to pre-determined destinations where they are symbolically and, sometimes truly, turned away. Usually there are figures of Mary and Joseph carried in honor with the procession, as well as a nacimiento (nativity scene) at the house that the people gather. As the nine days progress, verses of the traditional song are added, telling the story of a very different Jesus than is commonly espoused by the rich and elite. Here is the English version, but I've only ever heard it sung in Spanish.
In the name of Heaven
I beg you for lodging,
for she cannot walk
my beloved wife.

This is not an inn
so keep going
I cannot open
you may be a rogue.

Don't be inhuman;
Have mercy on us.
The God of the heavens
will reward you for it.

You can go on now
and don't bother us,
because if I become annoyed
I'll give you a trashing.

We are worn out
coming from Nazareth.
I am a carpenter,
Joseph by name.

I don't care about your name:
Let me sleep,
because I already told you
we shall not open up.

I'm asking you for lodging
dear man of the house
Just for one night
for the Queen of Heaven.

Well, if it's a queen
who solicits it,
why is it at night
that she travels so alone?

My wife is Mary
She's the Queen of Heaven
and she's going to be the mother
of the Divine Word.

Are you Joseph?
Your wife is Mary?
Enter, pilgrims;
I did not recognize you.

May God pay, gentle folks,
your charity,
and thus heaven heap
happiness upon you.

Blessed is the house
that shelters this day
the pure Virgin,
the beautiful Mary.

Final Celebration
Enter, holy pilgrims,
receive this corner,
for though this dwelling is poor,
I offer it with all my heart.

Oh, graced pilgrim,
oh, most beautiful Mary.
I offer you my soul
so you may have lodging.

Humble pilgrims,
Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
I give my soul for them
And my heart as well.

Let us sing with joy,
all bearing in mind
that Jesus, Joseph and Mary
honor us by having come.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, the celebrations for Posadas are full of iconic symbols of la cultura mexicana. Piñatas originated during the first fiestas in the form of estrellas to signify the Star of David that alerted the wise men and shepherds to the birth of Christ. Traditional foods such as tamales, buñuelos (cross between doughnuts and sopapillas), and champurrado (chocolate atole) are also part of the usual forms of celebration.

Across the United States, Posadas are being celebrated by communities and neighborhoods, with some gleaning the obvious political realities faced by their families.
NOGALES, Ariz. — With border agents, Customs officers and police looking on, a group of Catholics here turned the international border into Bethlehem and sang Christmas songs into a green metal grille separating the United States and Mexico.

The Saturday afternoon "Posada on the Border" was a dramatization of Mary and Joseph's search for lodging in Bethlehem the night of Jesus' birth. Re-enactments occurred simultaneously on both sides of the international line, with those on the U.S. side incorporating border politics into their performance.

In a shadow cast by the cement-and-steel border wall, 11-year-old Gerardo Perez, playing Joseph, and 11-year-old Luz Mariela Robles, as Mary, walked the sidewalk along the international border seeking shelter, or posada.

Led by Miriam Lewis, also 11, who played the angel, they knocked on doors of three "inns" named Arizona, California, and New Mexico/Texas.

Each time, they were rejected and the group prayed for migrants who have died in that state while trying to cross into the United States from Mexico on foot.

Catholic officials say the dramatization was intended as a message that we need to be more welcoming of migrants seeking jobs and homes in other countries.

This is one of my favorite celebrations of the year because it turns the commercial-infected holiday season into one infused with the spirit of charity and family. Traditionally, gifts were not even opened on Christmas day, but rather on Dia de los Reyes Magos in January, but as with any melding of cultures, I'll be handing out presents to mis hijados and getting some from family on the 25th. There is one aunt that waits, though, and I smile to think of her.

She lives in the house of my great-grandmother who passed when I was a small child. Although I was a little guy at the time, I can still visualize the corner of her living where the nacimiento was layed out with care - the same nacimiento that was given to me when she passed on - the same that I proudly put out every year during these final days of the year.

It is a reminder of where I've been and, more importantly, a re-realization of the charity that is expected of me as a follower of a boy who was born in a stable among animals because his family was turned away.

Mas información:

Posadas - Wikipedia
Navidad en Mexico -
Posadas on Olvera Street
Holiday Traditions - Mexico (with Champurrado and Arroz con Leche recipes!)

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