A young boy holding a candle stands with the “peregrinos,” or pilgrims seeking lodging, or “posada” during one of the nine nights of the traditional Mexican pre-Christmas celebrations held at St. Joseph Church in Barron on Dec. 22. On the other side of the door, the “posaderos,” or innkeepers, have their song sheets ready for the back and forth chorus. The posada follows Joseph and Mary seeking shelter in Bethlehem and ends with them being welcomed in and a time of fellowship and traditional Mexican foods. (Catholic Herald photo by Jenny Snarski)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

After the Advent season of waiting, the contemplative scene of Christmas centers around the manger. During the novena of Christmas, one tradition in the Spanish-speaking world punctuates the final days of preparation before celebrating the Nativity of Jesus.

The practice of “Las Posadas,” directly translated as “The Inns,” sets the very human scene of Joseph and Mary, at the end of their long journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, seeking lodging in Joseph’s ancestral hometown.

The Eucharistic Missionary Sisters who minster to the local Hispanic community within the western Diocese of Superior fervently held Las Posadas during eight of the nine days beginning Dec. 16. Rotating between the churches of St. Joseph in Barron and Rice Lake, the sisters led the praying of the rosary before an adapted indoor posada procession.

Most traditionally, groups will visit various homes within a parish or neighborhood “pidiendo posada,” or asking for lodging as Joseph would have sought for his pregnant wife.

The format follows a sung chorus of verse and response between the group of pilgrims – peregrinos – and innkeepers – posaderos. The song is comprised of a wearying tune, at times almost comical in its approach.

Joseph asks for shelter for his “dear wife” after their days and hours of walking. A firm rejection by the innkeeper tells them to move on, that he can’t be bothered or risk the danger of allowing a stranger into his home.

The Queen of Heaven’s protector implores assistance, announcing his name and profession as a poor carpenter and promising blessing from God as a reward. The pilgrims are once again turned away, this time more forcefully. Knowing their names doesn’t make a difference and the innkeeper warns them to leave or else.

The back and forth finds resolution when Joseph declares his wife to be the Mother of the Divine Word, at which the door opens claiming he’d have opened sooner if the pilgrims had been recognized for who they were.

“Enter holy travelers,” the litany concludes with a change of melody and rhythm. A corner is offered for their rest. Although poor, it is given from the heart.

All sing with joy at the consideration that their home has been chosen as the place for the Nativity to unfold.

Steeped in culture and celebration with food, drink and often a piñata for children, there is deeper meaning.

“Mary, Joseph and Our Savior, what a joy to have you here. We are honored to receive you, may you stay through all the year,” one English translation of the song says.

The pageantry and pilgrim nature of the posadas stems from its own history. It is thought to have begun as a catechetical practice for illiterate Christians in Europe to teach the Gospel account of Mary and Joseph, traveling in obedience to a Roman edict fulfilling the Old Testament prophecy of the Son of God being born from the line of David.

Spanish missionaries accompanying the Conquistadors brought it the New World in the 16th century. As early Christians took pagan customs and imbued them with Christian meaning, the missionaries built upon the Aztecs’ commemorations of winter solstice. The solstice coincided with the indigenous celebration of one of their most important gods.

Building on the Dec. 12 remembrance of Our Lady of Guadalupe – who appeared in 1531 – the posadas were a way to combine the existing culture with Catholic preparations for Christmas.

The Missionary Sisters were not sure how their eight consecutively scheduled posadas between the parishes would be received. With a few of the nights being lightly attended, they were pleased with an average of eight to 10 families with children and other adults for most of the gatherings.

The rosary was prayed and a reflection shared by one of the sisters on a Gospel passage.

On Dec. 22 at St. Joseph in Barron, Sr. Gabriela Martinez shared thoughts on the beauty of human beings. By God becoming human – choosing to live in a human family, to experience and share in human affection – he drew nearer than any other god in any other religion. He is a God who never obliges a response; rather invites and leaves each one free to respond.

She continued painting the picture of a desperate Joseph eager to find a place of rest for Mary, about to give birth. She added that God never ceases to seek out humanity, especially seen in his humility of being born as a helpless child in a simple stable.

Sr. Gabriela Martinez invited those present to follow Mary’s example of simplicity and trust in God, even and especially when circumstances seem nothing like how one would expect God to reveal himself.

Concluding with a gaze toward Mary and Joseph contemplating the Baby Jesus, God-with-us, the group was invited to enact the Posada.

One of the young boys held a candle leading the procession as another person carried small statutes of Mary and Joseph in a basket. Moving from door to door and singing the litany of song and response, the simple yet meaningful act ended again at the altar.

Afterward, traditional Mexican foods and hot chocolate – homemade by those present – were enjoyed in the church hall.

On last night of the Posadas, Dec. 24, the sisters encouraged families to enact the ceremony in their own homes.

To follow the Hispanic Ministry within the Diocese of Superior, visit the Facebook page “Ministerio Hispano de la Diocese de Superior.” For more information, visit catholicdos.org/Hispanics or contact Ana Cristina Marquez at .