Story by S.L. Hansen
TECUMSEH (SNR) - Last Saturday, the Hispanic parishioners at Saint Andrew Parish in Tecumseh began a traditional Advent celebration common in Mexico and Guatemala called Las Posadas.
For eight consecutive evenings, ending Dec. 23, families will gather at Church to pray the rosary, sing the story of Christ’s arrival, and then enjoy refreshments and fellowship.
Las Posadas originated in Spain, but it has been an important Mexican tradition for more than 400 years. The name “Las Posadas” means “Lodging” or “The Inn,” and the focus is Mary and Joseph’s search for a warm place to stay the night.
For Bélen Peña, organizing Las Posadas for her parish has been an opportunity to share one of her favorite childhood memories from her hometown in Mexico with both Hispanic and Caucasian children here in Nebraska.
“It is extra special for me,” she confided.
Her first name is the Spanish word for Bethlehem, so Advent and Christmas have always been particularly meaningful times for her.
“We grew up in Mexico doing Las Posadas, walking from church to the houses, and then coming back to the church,” she recalled.
The celebration starts with a rosary at the church, and then a stroll to a hosting family’s home to sing the traditional Las Posadas song. In Mexico, children dress as angels or shepherds. Many people carry candles or flowers, and often a statue of the Blessed Mother is carried in procession.
The faithful stand outside the door and knock, singing, “En el nombre del cielo/os pido posada,/pues no puede andar/mi esposa amada.”
Roughly translated, the lyric is in the voice of Saint Joseph: “In the name of heaven/I ask you for shelter/for my beloved wife/can go no farther.”
The hosting family responds in song, “Aquí no es meson/ sigan adelante,/ yo no puedo abrir,/no sea algún tunante.” Or, “This is not an inn/Get on with you/I cannot open the door/You might be a rogue.”
The song continues between the people outdoors singing Saint Joseph’s part, and the family within rejecting them over and over, until the lyric reveals that his wife is the Blessed Mother.
The family responds with the joyful stanza, “¿Eres tu José?/¿Tu esposa es María?/ Entren, peregrinos/ no los conocía.” (“Is that you Joseph?/Your wife is Mary?/Enter pilgrims/I didn’t recognize you.”)
The song ends with more celebration, and then all partake in the host family’s refreshments.
Due to busy working families, Peña has arranged for the St. Andrew’s Las Posadas to remain at church instead of processing to various homes.
“People are not getting off from work in time to prepare,” she explained, “so we are doing it at church.”
Following the rosary, the hosting family or families will step outside the doors of the church and knock, singing Saint Joseph’s verses. The people inside will answer, and after the last verse and another song of celebration, everyone will proceed to the parish hall for refreshments provided by that evening’s hosts.
“They have something to drink or eat, like cookies or hot chocolate or something like that,” Peña said. “Somebody else has candies or things for the kids.”
“Sometimes a piñata is provided by the host family,” said Father Craig Clinch, pastor. “The piñata represents the different vices. When we conquer our vices with God’s grace, we receive great blessings and grow in virtue.”
On the evening of Dec. 20, the parish included CCD children in Las Posadas. Father Clinch said all the non-Hispanic children of the parish were also learning to sing the song so they could participate.
Saint Nicholas also put in an appearance, giving each child two one-dollar coins.
“We are encouraging them to give one away to somebody in greater need,” Father Clinch said.
“I remember when we were kids, we liked to go to Las Posadas for the candy or the chocolate,” Peña remembered. “We didn’t think about Jesus, because in Mexico when we were young, most of the people were poor.”
Still, she recalls fondly the single gift she got each year when she was a child: a bag with peanuts, candy and an orange. “We were happy to have it!” she smiled.
She was planning to attend every evening of Las Posadas if she was in town.
“For us it is fun,” she said. “It is preparing us to receive Christ at Christmas, so it is wonderful.”
All are welcome to attend Las Posadas through Saturday the 23rd at St. Andrew Church, 186 N. 5th St., Tecumseh. The rosary begins at 6 p.m.