Annual Tradition of Las Posadas Illuminates Christmas Spirit in the United States and Central America

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Photo: Twitter Screenshot - Elizabeth Anker 2

Annually, from December 16th to Christmas Eve, thousands of people in the United States and Central America joyfully participate in “Las Posadas,” a time-honored tradition retelling the journey of Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem in search of shelter.

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The term “posadas” translates to “lodging” in Spanish, and this centuries-old tradition traces its roots back to Spain over 400 years ago, eventually finding its way to Central America with the arrival of the Spanish.

Since then, it has become a cherished part of Mexican and Mexican-American Christmas celebrations.

“The tradition of Las Posadas comes from the desire of devout believers to commemorate a very specific moment found in the Gospels — ‘because there was no room for them in the inn,'” explained Fr. Matthew Zuberbueler, pastor of St. Anthony Catholic Church in Falls Church, Virginia.

Throughout the nine nights of Las Posadas, two individuals dress as Mary and Joseph, sometimes accompanied by others dressed as angels and shepherds from the nativity story. “Accompanying Joseph and Mary on their arduous journey to Bethlehem, people young and old find the space in their hearts and homes to make the holy visitors welcome,” added Zuberbueler.

In a candlelit procession, the group symbolically visits various places, representing inns, and experiences rejection, echoing the biblical story of Mary and Joseph. “At the time of the first Christmas — like now — welcoming the Savior turns less-than-ideal surroundings and circumstances into opportunities for peace,” noted Zuberbueler.

Ani Gonzalez, director of music at a Catholic parish in Houston, described how, in their church, the inns are represented by different buildings. The group sings songs and recites prayers, pleading for shelter, only to be turned away each time by the person playing the innkeeper.

Gonzalez explained that the festivities take place at the final “inn,” where a celebration unfolds. “There’s always pan dulce, tamales, posole, champurrado, ponche, chocolate, atole,” she said, highlighting the diverse treats enjoyed during Las Posadas. The celebration also includes a traditional star-shaped piñata.

This heartwarming process repeats each night until Christmas Eve, with many churches concluding Las Posadas with a Midnight Mass. Gonzalez emphasized how the yearly Las Posadas at her parish brings the entire community together, with different groups sponsoring the event each night.

“We have a different group sponsor it every night,” she said. “The Guadalupanos, the CCE kids, the mother’s group, etc.” For Gonzalez’s community, and for many of Mexican heritage in the United States, Las Posadas “is a really important part of Christmastime.”

While various Christmas traditions exist, Las Posadas holds a special place for those who partake in this festive event. Gonzalez shared that some may enjoy Christmas lights, ‘Handel’s Messiah,’ or ‘The Nutcracker,’ but for Mexicans, it’s all about Las Posadas. 

This simple and heartwarming tradition continues to weave joy and community spirit throughout the holiday season, uniting people in celebration and reflection on the true meaning of Christmas.

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