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The Mexican Christmas tradition I enjoyed most as a child is called Las Posadas. Even today, when I hear the lyrics of the Las Posadas song, or smell a cup of Mexican ponche, or watch kids swinging at a piñata, all those fond memories come rushing back to me. A couple of years ago, my children were in Mexico during the holidays and they enjoyed every single minute of their stay. And why not? There was a party and a piñata every day! What amazes me most is how many details they still remember from those celebrations. Quite a few of you have asked me how to celebrate Las Posadas, so that’s exactly what I’ll do, I’ll give you a step by step guide for how to celebrate Las Posadas the way my family does it in Mexico.
If you are not familiar with Las Posadas, the tradition was brought to Mexico from Spain by Catholic Missionaries in the 1500’s. The tradition commemorates Mary and Joseph’s journey in search of a room on the night baby Jesus was born. That is why it is called Las Posadas, because posada means Inn or dwelling in Spanish, so Las Posadas means the Inns. You probably remember that there was no room at any Inn on that night, and Mary and Joseph had to knock on a few doors before they found the manger where Jesus was born.
Where I grew up, the Las Posadas celebrations started 9 days before Christmas each year, always on December 16th, and continued each day through Christmas Eve. They still have a strong religious significance, but they are culturally significant, too, so they are widely celebrated by both Catholics and non-Catholics alike in Mexico. In my family, we always celebrated them as religious events, but I have seen them celebrated with fewer religious elements as well. Whether you want to celebrate all 9 days, or just one, or you would like to celebrate in a traditional way or with variations. I hope this will help. This guide is inspired by my family’s traditions. Each Las Posadas celebration has three main components; first, the prayer and caminata, then the food, and lastly, the piñata.
How to Celebrate Las Posadas
Prayer and Caminata
In Mexico, many traditional Las Posadas celebrations begin with prayer, for instance, with a recitation of the Rosary, and then continues with the caminata, a re-enactment of Joseph and Mary’s search for a room.
To do this, you will need a rosary, a person to lead the rosary, musical instruments like tambourines or maracas, and printed lyrics of the Las Posadas song. If someone in your party plays the guitar, even better. We usually sing a Christmas carol after each decade of the rosary and the kids love playing the instruments. You will also need candles and sparklers.
Variation: Start with a short prayer or sing Christmas carols in place of the Rosary.
After the prayers, the caminata follows. Remember this is the re-enactment of Joseph and Mary’s journey in search of a room.
To do this, beforehand, find three doors that open to the outdoors. They can be three neighbors’ doors, or, like my family in Mexico, three doors on the same house.
Participants divide into two groups. One group sings from inside each of the doors, and the other carries the Peregrinos, the figurines of Mary and Joseph (see photo at top, you can also have kids dress up like Joseph and Mary, they usually enjoy this), and sing the Las Posadas song (see lyrics link below) from outside the doors. Give each person a candle and a few sparklers. The candles are lit during the singing and procession (caminata) and the sparklers are lit at the end just before dinner.
The outside group approaches the first door, singing. The inside group responds in song, but does not open the door. Next, the outside group continues to the second door and, again, the door is not opened. Then, the outside group moves to the third door singing, and the inside group finally opens the door.
Here are a few resources for you:
- Las Posadas song’s Lyrics right here.
- This is a great video of the Las Posadas song (in Spanish)
Food and beverages
After the caminata, we eat. Make sure you have a big open space for all your guests. We usually place chairs outside in a big circle so we can mingle and talk while we eat. There are three important food elements in our posadas, fruit, candy, and dinner. Usually, bags of fruit are passed around while we wait for dinner. Our traditional bags include 1 orange, 1 mandarin, 1 piece of sugar cane, 2-3 tejocotes (Mexican hawthorne), 1 guava and a good helping of roasted peanuts in shells.
Dinner usually consists of a traditional Mexican antojito like tacos, tamales, pozole and the like. Here are a few links with yummy recipes:
- Green pozole with chicken
- Pinneaple guava tamales
- Easy chipotle enchiladas
- Barbacoa tacos
- Miner’s tacos
- Shredded chipotle beef tacos
- Avocado chicken enchiladas
- Chicken and linguica tacos dorados
- more recipes
Our traditional beverage for Las Posadas is Mexican Ponche, a spiced, hot beverage made with fruit, water and sugar. Some adults add a little bit of rum or whiskey in theirs to make it warmer. Other options are atole or chapurrado, especially if you serve tamales. Here are a few links:
- Mexican Christmas Punch: the traditional Ponche as we make it in Mexico.
- Mexican Ponche: this is a variation for those of us who don’t live in Mexico giving ideas for ingredient substitutions.
- Lime atole
After dinner, a host walks out with a basket of aguinaldos which are small bags with sweets, including candy and cookies.
The piñata’s origins are in Las Posadas. The first piñata shape was a 7 pointed shining star:
- The seven points represent the 7 sins.
- Being blindfolded represents faith.
- The stick represents virtue.
- Beating the piñata represents the overcoming of sin.
- The treats inside represent the glory of God falling down upon us.
We also have a song we sing when we hit the piñata, which serves two practical purposes: The first is to have fun and participate, even when you are not hitting it yourself, and the second is the length of the song sets the perfect time limit for each person’s turn before passing the stick on to the next in line. Check out the piñata song lyrics right here, and check out the video where I sing it for you right here.
Our Posadas generally have two piñatas, one for the little ones, and one for older kids. Or, one for girls and one for boys, or simply two to make sure everybody gets a hit in before they are destroyed.
After the caminata, dinner, and hitting the pinatas, we gather around and talk and eat our candy and mingle until late in the evening. Then, everybody goes home and gets ready for the next Las Posadas celebration the following day!
As I mentioned at the beginning, you can do all 9 days of Las Posadas celebrations, you can do just a few, or you can do one big one, it is up to you!