Las Posadas - The Christmas Party Before Christmas
Long ago in Mexico the winter solstice festival was one of the most important celebrations of the year. It was celebrated on December 12 and celebrated the beloved mother of gods, Tonantzin Guadalupe, because their most important diety, Huitzilopochtli (the sun god), was born in the month of December. The Aztecs believed that during the winter solstice the god Quetzalcoatl would come down to Earth and visit. To honor him they would perform sacrifices and offerings.
When the Spanish settlers arrived in Mexico they wanted to be able to celebrate their Christmas traditions too.
Friar Diego de Soria - the head of the San Agustin Convent - wanted to create a holy holiday that combined the natives annual Aztec winter solstice celebration with the Roman Catholics Christmas Pageant Ceremony in order to use this as an opportunity to tell the story of Jesus' Birth and convert them to Catholics, while respecting their native traditions. The original Las Posadas celebration was filled with attractive pomp and circumstance like fireworks, Christmas Carols and Pinatas to attract more attention to the festival.
Now, Christmas festivities in Mexico start on December 16 and are known as the Las Posadas celebration.
Mexican culture celebrates for nine days because each day represents the nine month pregnancy of Mary, Jesus's Mother. The name Las Posadas translates to the word "accommodation" which in this case is referring to the Inn in the story of when Jesus was born.
In 1586 missionary Friar Diego de Soria requested permission from the Vatican to perform nine Catholic masses before Christmas. He then received an edict issued by Pope Sixtus V, that Christmas Mass may be observed on the nine days before Christmas Day throughout Mexico. In order to honor Friar Diago de Soria for this, the town of Acolman erected a bronze statue of the Monk breaking a pinata.
One of the traditions during Las Posadas is the re-enactment of the journey that Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem looking for a place to stay the night Jesus was born. Children dress up like Mary and Joseph and ride on a donkey through out their neighborhood and stop at some homes and recite the letanias, a request to stay. The head of the procession has a candle inside a paper lampshade. At each home that they stop the resident responds to the children by singing a song. Once they find the inn the "innkeepers" let them in.
This final location may be a home or may be a church. After the innkeepers let them in, they kneel around the Nativity sceen and pray the Rosary, then there is Christmas carols sung, children break open a star shaped pinatas and then there is celebration and dinner.
In the United States Las Posadas is celebrated in San Antonio where there is a large procession that occurs annually at the San Antonio River Walk where this celebration has been held since 1966 . The final stop for them is the Cathedral of San Fernando.