One of the more common traditions in Mexico during the Christmas holidays are Las Posadas. The literal translation is The Inns, in reference to the Christian baby and manger. Since Mexico is a highly Christian practicing country, Las Posadas are personal and common.
Celebrated the nine days before Christmas, December 16 to 24, Las Posadas are celebrated to recognize the struggles of Mary and Joseph as they traveled to reach Bethlehem from Jerusalem. A posada is literally a reenactment of the Census pilgrimage to Bethlehem by Mary and Joseph (los peregrinos) in search of a room, and during those nine days, is common to see a person riding a donkey along a public street or roadway as they are led by a group seeking room at the inn.
Traditionally, friends, family and even sometimes neighbors will gather at a different home each of the nine nights. A home will host the people who often sing hymns, drink hot beverages (punch or atole) and eat traditional tamales.
The highlight of the evening is the singing of the traditional Posadas hymn, sung in a call and response fashion where the hosts, acting as the innkeepers, sing from within the closed door of their house while the guests stand outside the room and sing the verses of Joseph and Mary asking to stay at the inn.
Holding lighted candles, each group takes turns singing verses: (Pilgrims, outside)
“Mi nombre es José,
Mi esposa es María.
y madre va ser,
del Divino Verbo.”
“My name is Joseph,
My wife is Mary.
and mother to be
of the Divine Word.”
(Inn keepers, inside)
“Posada os brindo,
y disculpa os pido,
no os reconocía.”
“The inn I give you,
and offer an apology,
for not recognizing you.”
At the end of the song, the innkeepers open the doors to give room to Mary and Joseph. After the singing of Posadas, everyone gathers to enjoy the food as well as the breaking of a piñata.
The Christmas season in Mexico continues through January 6th, which is El Dia de los Reyes (day of the kings or the wise men). Traditionally, this is the day Mexican children receive their gifts, but with growing international influence they usually receive gifts on both Christmas Day and Dia de los Reyes.
Posada parties, which are also common between friends and work places, are not only marked by traditional rituals but are also filled with cheerful socializing, authentic food, and fun for the entire family, including a special Christmas drink and a piñata filled with candy.
Traditional Mexican piñatas, especially the ones used during these holidays, are designed in the shape of a seven-point star. They are created with cardboard and paper mache and decorated with crepe paper.
The seven points represent the seven deadly sins that need to be destroyed by the sinner who is blindfolded (signifying blind faith). Hoping to conquer sin, he attempts to hit the swaying piñata with a stick and break open the center, which bestows him with ‘blessings’ (candy).
As each person takes turns swinging at the piñata, onlookers sing:
“Dale, dale, dale; no pierdas el tino,
porque si lo pierdes, pierdes el camino.”
“Hit it, hit it, hit it; don’t miss the shot,
Because if you miss it, you’ll lose the way.”
Once the piñata is broken and the falling candy has been collected, everyone returns to the eating and drinking a Christmas Mexican drink called Ponche con Piquete, a hot fruit punch containing a spicy blend of seasonal fruits, cinnamon and a shot of brandy or rum.
Mexico even has its own Christmas cerveza (beer) called Noche Buena available during the holiday season. It has been said that this delightful beer contains traces of chocolate. So lift a glass of Ponche or a bottle of Noche Buena and toast to a traditional Christmas holiday season in Mexico.