Posadas Are Beloved Tradition of Mission

Posted: 12/8/2014

Plymouth, N.C., mission members celebrate posadas.People often moan when they see red and green decorations in stores and Christmas advertising on television in October. But in Plymouth, N.C., members of Glenmary’s St. Joan of Arc mission actually look forward to seeing sign-up sheets posted in October for posadas—a nine-night Christmas tradition (Dec. 16-24) many have carried from Mexico to their new homes in North Carolina.

For each of the first eight nights, “pilgrims” visit the home of a different parishioner, with the ninth posada ending at church on Christmas Eve. Posadas are one of the well-loved activities of the mission, and most of the parishioners participate.

Although celebrations of posadas differ slightly from place to place, the annual tradition itself is constant—a key ritual and expression of faith for natives of Mexico, according to Julian Crespo, the pastoral coordinator of the Plymouth mission. “One of the main themes is the message of welcome to people who are not part of the Mexican culture. It’s very powerful for Anglos and people from South America,” says Julian, who is a native of Cali, Colombia.

Las posadas—which literally means “the inns”—are a commemoration of the Holy Couple’s search for a place to stay before Jesus’ birth. The ritual is observed each night with song and prayer. Participants process to the home of the evening’s host family. When they reach the door, they ask to be received into the warmth of the home. Julian says that the folks inside “sing a song of several verses that begins by saying ‘We don’t receive you (like those who turned down Mary and Joseph’s request for shelter on the first Christmas Eve).’ But during the last verse of the song, the people in the host house welcome the outsiders into their house. The two groups share prayer, usually the rosary, and then a huge meal.”

The meal features traditional Mexican food and beverages, including atole, a warm drink that symbolizes the warmth extended to people who have been outdoors in the cold.

The culmination of nine days of posadas is a pastorela, a pastoral drama of the Nativity, which Julian says is the favorite part of the tradition for many Mexican children. In Plymouth, adults play the roles of Mary and Joseph; children enjoy portraying angels and shepherds. For many of those children, their love of performing is something they inherited from their parents, says Julian.

The celebration of posadas began in Plymouth when Sister Arcadia Rivera Gutierrez, the first Glenmary pastoral coordinator, arrived six years ago. And the celebration has grown since Julian began leading the mission in 2012; he expects even more growth in 2014.

Although posadas take place in communities throughout Mexico, as well as those in the United States where Mexican people have immigrated, the Plymouth mission’s celebration is unique in a variety of ways—including concurrent events in several counties; participation by a significant percentage of non-Mexican mission members; ecumenical participation; and the added dimension of evangelization.

Because it is a mission parish, St. Joan of Arc draws its members from five counties, so there are people who must drive nearly an hour to attend Mass and parish functions in Plymouth. For this reason, the mission’s posadas take place in several counties as well as several homes. “We use multiple geographic points to make it possible for more people to participate,” Julian says. Even though these locations make it easier for them to join in, he has been impressed with the level of sacrifice that many make to ensure that posadas are part of their celebration of Christmas.

Although only about 20 percent of the parishioners are Anglo, a number of Anglo members always participate, including one family that takes a turn as hosts one night each year. “It’s interesting,” Julian says. “(The Anglo members) don’t understand every word that is being spoken, but there is another level of understanding. They connect emotionally with the Latino community.”

The 80 percent of parishioners who are Latino represent a number of countries, including Mexico, Peru and Honduras. They all have brought their cultures to the mission, says Julian. He believes that the diversity of the congregation is one of its greatest strengths. Although the tradition of posadas comes from Mexico, the entire parish has embraced the custom.

Another unique quality of the Plymouth posadas is their interdenominational participation. Some Mexicans who live in the area were raised Catholic but are now Evangelical Christians, Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Episcopalians.

“Even if they’ve joined other churches, though, they continue to celebrate posadas with us,” Julian says. The involvement of people of other faith traditions also gives the event an aspect of evangelization and helps keep many connected to the church of their birth and homeland.

Connecting socially after the prayer and song continues that evangelization through the season of posadas, he says. “There’s a combination of the spiritual and social in the posadas celebration that is very important for all those who come.”

This article appears in the December 2014
Boost-A-Month Club newsletter.