Celebrating Las Posadas: The holiday of hospitality

Las Posadas, the Latin American holiday celebrating the journey Joseph and Mary took before Jesus' birth, is celebrated Dec. 16-24 with food and drinks, music and a piñata. (Photo/Getty Images)
Las Posadas, the Latin American holiday celebrating the journey Joseph and Mary took before Jesus' birth, is celebrated Dec. 16-24 with food and drinks, music and a piñata. (Photo/Getty Images)

In the days leading up to Christmas, many Latin American families are gathering together in each other’s homes to celebrate hospitality during Las Posadas.

Rooted in Mexican tradition, the Catholic holiday is widely celebrated across Latin America, Guatemala, Honduras and America. Celebrated from Dec. 16-24, the nine-day celebration aims to emphasize the journey Mary and Joseph took to Bethlehem leading up to Jesus’ birth while highlighting acts of kindness and hospitality.

“There’s this idea of the journey; there’s this idea of the uncertainty; there’s this idea of welcoming the stranger and offering hospitality,” Yuriria Rodriguez, episcopal priest and artist with Arte de Mexico in Indiana, said. “All those are very present in religion, and in culture, and Latin America.”

“Posada” translates to “inn” — like a bed and breakfast, Rodriguez said. However, the story takes a bit of a twist in Latin American cultures, where instead of being turned away, Mary and Joseph are recognized as the parents of the coming savior and are welcomed into the inn.

“The tradition of finding room in the inn started very much with the 16th century when the Catholic priests were trying to teach the indigenous community about religion — about Christian religion, right?” Rodriguez said. “At the end, the Posadas became a reenactment of the time when Mary and Jesus in the Christian story are frustratingly trying to find a place to sleep in because the baby’s coming.”

Growing up in Costa Rica, Rodriguez said Las Posadas was commonly celebrated within her community. Although there is a strong religious aspect to the holiday, she said services are held outside the church in local neighborhoods.

A large part of the holiday is welcoming guests, friends and neighbors into your homes, sharing traditional food, drinks, music and Christmas carols — both in Spanish and English — as well as the seven-point star piñata — which Rodriguez said represents the seven sins.

“Some people celebrate it with short prayer service, maybe a meditation of what it means to read about this journey of Joseph and Mary, and how does that impact us, you know, as a community, as an immigrant community,” Rodriguez said.

Eduardo Luna, founder of Arte de Mexico en Indiana, said growing up in Mexico, his family always used to celebrate the Posadas by walking through his neighborhood in Acapulco, singing songs and asking neighbors for posadas — or inn. At the end of the night, one of the families in the neighborhood would end up hosting them, offering them food and piñata.

“We used to walk in the neighborhood and sing along, holding a candle and holding pieces of paper that had the songs on it,” Luna said. “People were singing along while they were walking, going from house to house. It was very repetitive, but it was a lot of fun doing it; it was a good memory that I had when I was a kid.”

Although Luna said he has not been as involved in celebrating the holiday since moving to America, the traditions of Las Posadas are something he wishes to pass on to his children as part of their culture.

“I feel like my kids might want to experience something that I experienced when I was younger and growing up because it’s part of my culture, you know, and as our arts and culture organization develops, those are things that are happening in our culture,” Luna said. “And that’s why we celebrate Las Posadas because the mission of Arte de Mexico en Indiana is to promote our culture — Mexican art and culture — but also include Latino culture, like the rest of the culture involved, and be involved in what we do.”

In Indianapolis, celebrations tend to be multi- or cross-cultural, with people from different backgrounds coming together to share music and food, Rodriguez said. Even non-Latin Americans are beginning to celebrate, as institutions such as the Athenaeum, the Children’s Museum and Newfields are hosting events or art highlighting Las Posadas.

For more information about the work Arte de Mexico en Indiana is doing, visit facebook.com/artemexicanoenindiana.

Contact staff writer Chloe McGowan at 317-762-7848 or chloegm@indyrecorder.com. Follow her on Twitter @chloe_mcgowanxx.