CHEROKEE COUNTY — It's a centuries-old tradition, based on the scripture story of Mary's and Joseph's search for lodging in Bethlehem.
But for Claudia Meaux, whose earliest memories of las posadas reach back to her days as a schoolgirl attending the Instituto América in Chihuahua, Mexico, the Advent tradition is a way to help keep her Christian faith and Mexican culture alive.
“The posadas are something you grow up with; it’s a part of who you are, and as a Mexican, as a Hispanic, there’s a natural progression” in wanting to share the tradition with your children, Meaux said. “It’s a part of our culture, of who we are (as Hispanics and as Christians), and (she and husband, Mike) want our daughters to be proud of that.”
The posadas are an instrument to share Christian faith, much like the story of the nativity or incorporating an Advent wreath in their home prayer life, she added.
“Because if we don’t do this now when they’re little, how can we expect them to respect the teachings (of our faith) when they’re older?” Meaux asked.
Las posadas – literally “the inns” – are held Dec. 16 through 24 in homes and churches throughout the United States and Mexico, rooted in a 16th-century Mexican tradition developed by Spanish missionaries to share the Christmas story to indigenous people.
Incorporating song and prayer, pilgrims – “peregrinos” – travel with the Holy Couple, who are seeking shelter and anticipating the imminent birth of the Christ child. Along the way, they experience the rejection that María y José are subjected to by inn-keepers who aren't very welcoming.
“Welcoming the stranger that comes to our door is always important in many cultures (because it shows) that hospitality is more than just being kind,” said Father Mark Kusmirek, pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Church, which incorporated the tradition two decades ago. “The posadas are a good way to keep to the forefront of our minds that it's not just 'me and Jesus,' it's 'us and Jesus.'”
Meaux agreed, singing and explaining the final stanza of the posadas song.
“‘Entren santos peregrinos, perigrinos' … we have spent the whole evening (being rejected) and now we celebrate because we have found shelter,” she explained.
Through the posada experience, “you become one of the villagers, you (walk) with Mother Mary, knocking on doors and they reject you, and you feel it,” she added. “You're singing the songs (of the posada), but at the same time it helps put you in the shoes of the Holy family, and in a way, you (understand) the way they felt. And it helps you to become accommodating of people … if you feel rejected, maybe you won't reject somebody. And it makes you reflect on what has been does to others, and what has been done to you. And I think it makes you a better person, and it makes you reflect on what this season is truly about.”
Las posadas is an ideal Advent activity for those looking to delve deeper into the spiritual meaning of Christmas because it takes us back to the beginning of the story of Jesus, while helping foster a sense of community, the priest said.
“All Christians celebrate the history of the birth of Jesus,” Father Mark said. We get people both at the posadas and the Christmas liturgies (and) I think they're amazed to see (this) living expression of faith.”
The Advent season gives Christians an opportunity to focus on the true meaning of Christmas, he added. “It helps us to situate God's presence in time and in place for us as Christians,” he said.
For Meaux, the mother of six-year-old Kate and three-year-old Eli, the posadas are a tradition of love and faith and family that she hopes her children will look back upon when they're married and mommies themselves.
“What I remember the best are the piñatas (at the end of the evening) and the songs that we sang,” she recalled, adding how, after she graduated from high school, the tradition took on a new meaning among her university student friends who found comfort and familiarity in the posadas.
“You seek out things because you feel lonely and nostalgic for your culture – things that make you feel like you belong,” she said. “Being part of the pequeña comunidad (the Catholic student community on campus) meant getting together, and in my case we liked to sing, so when we had the posadas, we would make groups to sing.”
A couple portraying Mary and Joseph is accompanied by a group of peregrinos, going from site to site in search of shelter, singing out their requests, and being rejected through song, according to www.mexconnect.com
“In the name of heaven, I beg you for lodging, for she cannot walk, my beloved wife … don't be inhuman, have mercy on us,” the pilgrims sing at the door of each site they visit, only to be rejected time and again by unfeeling hosts.
“You can go on now and don't bother us, because if I become annoyed I'll give you a thrashing … let me sleep …” replies the group inside the shelter.
Finally, someone recognizes the Holy Couple.
“¿Eres tú, José? ¿Tu esposa es María?” (“Is that you, Joseph? And your wife is Mary?”) the host asks?
As the doors open at the final stop, according to the website, “the tune changes and the pilgrims enter and all begin singing:
Entren, Santos Peregrinos/reciban este rincon/que aunque es pobre la morada/os la doy de corazon … (Enter, holy pilgrims, receive this corner, for though this dwelling is poor, I offer it with all my heart).
“And then you are welcomed inside,” Meaux said, “where there is usually the traditional meal of tamales and hot chocolate or coffee, and pozole or menudo.
“And of course, we have the piñata,” she laughed, which often is the center of the children's attention. “It's pretty fun, actually.”
While the tradition is Mexican and Catholic in origin, the beauty of las posadas is that everyone is welcome to join in.
“It's a representation of the Bible (story about Mary and Joseph's search for shelter), but it becomes real, because you can participate” in that journey, Meaux said. “And it really makes the meaning of what this season is about: The birth of Jesus and redemption of the whole world, not 'how much can we spend.'”
Encouraging others to join in the posadas, held at 7 p.m. nightly Dec. 16 to 24 at Our Lady of Sorrows Church, 10 Corinth Rd. in Jacksonville, Meaux said she thought people would enjoy seeing “the Bible come alive and feeling a sense of community.
“At the very least, you're going to get to enjoy some delicious food and fellowship,” she laughed.