SUNDAY, DECEMBER 16: You think that Christmas is huge in the United States? Then, you haven’t visited Mexico during the December holidays: twinkling lights everywhere, big-city parades, small-town religious processions. In fact, the big news this month from CNN is: Mexico is recommended among CNN’s top Christmas destinations on the planet.
Specifically, CNN highlights the central Mexican town of San Miguel de Allende, which CNN describes like this: Piñatas, posadas and ponche sum up the festivities in this colorful Mexican city, where Christmas is both a solemn and a celebratory affair. Leading up to December 24, you’re likely to stumble upon Mary and Joseph strolling the streets, as locals make pilgrimages from home to home, singing to “ask for posada” or “beg for shelter” as they re-enact the journey to Bethlehem. Ponche—a mulled fruit drink—and piñatas cap a long evening of peregrinations around this cobblestoned city, which was recently designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
MEXICO IN AMERICA: LAS POSADAS
Hispanic neighborhoods across the U.S. have carried these customs northward through many generations of Latino families—especially the nine-day celebration known as Las Posadas—which begins tonight.
Originally from Spain, Las Posadas now floods the streets of Mexico, Guatemala and, in particular, parts of the American Southwest with processions, songs, piñatas, Nativity stories and plenty of food and drink for everyone. For many Mexican Catholics, Christmas Day is merely a day of relaxation and this—Las Posadas—is the grandest festival of all.
Humble beginnings created Las Posadas: For more than 400 years, townspeople joined in a procession mimicking Mary and Joseph’s trek through Bethlehem, in search of an inn. (Wikipedia has details.) For nine nights (representing the nine months of Mary’s pregnancy), actors parade from house to house, singing seasonal songs and asking for shelter. As planned, several houses turn the guests away with another song. Finally, a last house accepts Mary, Joseph and any accompanying angels and shepherds. Everyone enters the final home, offers Nativity prayers, and joins in traditional food and drink, merriment and a piñata. (Did you know? The Las Posadas piñata is shaped like a star with seven protruding cones, to represet the seven deadly sins.) Remarkably, this ritual has survived for centuries with very few changes.
From Texas to New York to Toronto: While Texans will be watching a procession along the San Antonio River Walk for Las Posadas, New Yorkers will be sipping Atole, a corn-sugar drink native to Mexico. Further north in Toronto, members of the parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe mark a full nine-night Posadas. (Read the story at Catholic Register.)
WHERE ARE THE HISPANIC CHRISTMAS MOVIES?
This year, ReadTheSpirit is asking readers to recommend great Christmas movies. We published a fun story about holiday films by ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm, who argues that there really are only 5 Christmas movie plots among the 100s of DVDs available each year. So, some of our readers have asked in responding emails: If Hispanic Americans comprise such a large and growing minority—and if Christmas is such a big celebration in Hispanic culture—then, why haven’t we seen more Latino Christmas movies?
The answer is: There are at least a few recommended by film critics. The most frequently mentioned is Nothing Like the Holidays, released in 2008 with an ensemble of Hollywood’s Latino actors and actresses. Word of warning, though: Even thought Nothing Like the Holidays appears to be the most popular Hispanic Hollywood Christmas movie, it gets mixed reviews. Film critics compare it to a Mexican soap opera, crammed with so many odd-ball characters that it’s unclear whether it hopes to be a comedy or a drama—and winds up being a sort of screwball melodrama. Still, it’s a chance to see leading Hispanic actors and actresses strut their holiday stuff for a change from the typical Scrooge and Wonderful Life movie plots.
To that we say: Feliz Navidad!