Posadas Navidenas: Celebrate nine nights of faith, food & community

Las Posadas procession photo via Wikiimedia Commons

Las Posadas procession in the American Southwest in a particularly picturesque setting. (Photo via Wikimedia)

Glasses of white creamy drink sprinkled with cinnamon and spices

Rompope, a traditional Mexican drink similar to eggnog, is served at many Las Posadas celebrations. Photo by David Armano, courtesy of Flickr

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 16: The lively, colorful and sparkling nights of Las Posadas begin the countdown to Christmas in Mexico, Guatemala and parts of the United States tonight, as an ancient tradition is reenacted.

Tantalizing dishes, merry carols and the story of the nativity has been bringing together communities in Mexico for more than 400 years in a beloved tradition that lasts nine nights and ends on Dec. 24. Each night of Las Posadas, a small, candlelit procession travels through a neighborhood, its participants dressed like Mary, Joseph, angels and shepherds, reenacting the search for a safe place to welcome the infant Jesus. Often, musicians follow the group, as do accompanying members of the community.

Posada, Spanish for “lodging,” or “accommodation,” describes the events of Las Posadas: as the procession stops at designated houses and asks permission to stay, it is prearranged that all homeowners turn away the visitors until the host family is reached. At the home of the host family (or, in some regions, a church), the visitors are welcomed inside, and all present kneel before a nativity. Following prayers, tamales and ponche navideno are served, washed down with rompope, a Mexican drink with a taste similar to eggnog. Children may hit a five- or seven-pointed piñata, often filled with dried fruits, sugar sticks, candies and nuts.

RESOURCES & MORE

For recipes for tamales, rompope and more, check out an article from the Washington Postthis Pinterest page and Lowes.com.

As a learning resource, NBC News suggests Posadas Navidenas as one of five Latino holiday traditions to share with children.

IN THE NEWS: POSADAS IN AMERICA

The sights and sounds of Las Posadas can be heard beyond Mexico, and as this writer describes, Hispanic communities of the United States—and, in particular, in New Mexico—the nine nights before Christmas are a sprinkling of Mexican culture.

In the diverse state of New Mexico, Christmas trees and menorahs accompany multiple La Posada reenactments, some of which even include live animals. This year, the recently-formed nonprofit organization Bellas Artes Sin Fronteras presented “Feliz Navidad: Christmas in Song and Dance” Dec. 12-13, complete with mariachis, folklorico dance, pinatas and La Posada.

 

Feast of the Ascension: Christians look to Mount of Olives 40 days after Easter

Jesus glowing, in white, standing on grass with disciples on ground bowing and gesturing

An artist’s image of Waiting for the Word, courtesy of Flickr

THURSDAY, MAY 14: As Pentecost approaches, the Christian Church observes a pivotal feast central to the faith since its earliest days: the Feast of the Ascension, known also as Ascension Day. On this date—or, as some Roman Catholic churches have obtained Vatican permission to hold services on the Sunday following—Christians commemorate the bodily ascension of Jesus into Heaven. Each year, the Feast of the Ascension takes place on the 40th day after Easter. Though no documents give testament to the feast’s existence prior to the 5th century, St. Augustine referred to it as a universal observance of Apostolic origin.

MOUNT OF OLIVES: THE STORY OF THE ASCENSION

On the 40th day after Jesus’s Resurrection, it’s believed that he gathered with his disciples on the Mount of Olives and blessed them there. Jesus asked them to wait for the fulfillment of the promise of the Holy Spirit, to be witnesses and to “make disciples of all nations.” (Find readings for the feast and more from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.) Jesus then ascended into Heaven, when, according to the story as recounted in Acts: Jesus was lifted up in a cloud.

The feast’s Latin term, ascensio, indicates the belief that Christ was raised up by his own powers. Traditionally, beans and fruits were blessed on this feast day, and the Paschal candle’s flame is quenched. (Wikipedia has details.) In some churches, the Christ figure was lifted through an opening in the roof on the Feast of the Ascension.

Activities: It is customary to eat a type of bird on this day, to represent Christ’s “flight” to Heaven. As Jesus ascended from the Mount of Olives, it is also common—in hilly or mountainous areas—to picnic on a hilltop. (Find more ideas from FishEaters.)

Note: In the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church, the Feast of the Ascension takes place on May 21, in accordance with 40 days after Pascha (Easter).

Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday: Christians mourn, prepare

THURSDAY, APRIL 2 and FRIDAY, APRIL 3 and SATURDAY, APRIL 4: Holy Week for the world’s 2 billion Christians began several days ago with Palm Sunday, but the week’s events culminate with the start of Maundy Thursday. For three days, Christians will perform centuries-old rituals and review the final events in the life of Jesus. From foot washing to the Stations of the Cross, Christians lament the tragic events of Jesus’ final days. With prayer and fasting, the faithful prepare for the most joyous holiday of the year: Easter, the Resurrection of Christ.

Women smiling, one holding painting of Pope Francis in crowd

This Holy Week, St. Francis encourages humility. Photo of women at a prayer vigil, courtesy of Catholic Church England and Wales via Flickr

News on Pope Francis and Holy Week: Following on his two-year anniversary as pope, Francis remains phenomenally popular in the Catholic Church. The most recent Pew Forum poll ranked his approval rating among American Catholics at 90 percent, and this Holy Week, Pope Francis will not disappoint: He will begin the Easter Triduum by traveling to a prison in Rome to wash the feet of 12 inmates.

On Palm Sunday, Pope Francis declared to the thousands present at St. Peter’s Square that Holy Week is about humility—and that the humility of Jesus is what makes Holy Week so holy. (Read the story at Catholic News Agency.) Further, Pope Francis encouraged crowds to mimic this attitude of humility throughout the week, as “Only this way will this week be holy for us, too!” Pope Francis also gave examples of modern Christians who give selflessly and refuse to deny Jesus.

This week, Pope Francis will conduct a Chrism Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica on Holy Thursday; visit a Roman prison for foot-washing Thursday evening; head a service for the Passion of Our Lord at St. Peter’s Basilica on Good Friday, and lead thousands in the Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum; conduct the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday; and celebrate the Mass of Our Lord’s Resurrection on Easter.

Note: For Eastern Orthodox Christians following the Julian calendar, Palm Sunday 2015 will take place on Friday, April 5, and Holy Week will commence that week. Pascha (Easter) will fall on Sunday, April 12.

HOLY (MAUNDY) THURSDAY:
THE LAST SUPPER

Painting of  people gathered around table in structure with rock walls, man at center standing and lit, holding cup

An artist’s depiction of the Last Supper. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Easter Triduum is initiated with Maundy Thursday, the fifth day of Holy Week. Alternatively known as Holy Thursday or Covenant Thursday, this day commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus with the Apostles. As Jewish days begin at sunset, most Maundy Thursday services take place in the evening. Some scholars believe that the name “Maundy Thursday” derived from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the phrase stated by Jesus to describe the purpose for his washing their feet. (“A new commandment I give to unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you.”) In some churches, to this day, clergy ceremonially wash the feet of 12 persons as part of Maundy Thursday services. (Wikipedia has details.) Following the Maundy Thursday service, the altar is “stripped” in solemn fashion in preparation for Good Friday.

Did you know? On Holy Thursday, the Catholic Chrism Mass is celebrated in each diocese, during which holy oils are blessed. The blessed oils are used on Holy Saturday, at the Easter Vigil and for baptisms and confirmations.

Today, even outside of the church building, global traditions for Maundy Thursday are varied and colorful. In the United Kingdom, the Monarch offers Maundy money to worthy elders; in Malta, seven churches are visited on this single day; in Bulgaria, Easter eggs are colored and homes are prepared for the upcoming holy days. Holy Thursday is a public holiday in many Christian countries, including Costa Rica, Denmark, Iceland, Mexico, the Philippines, Spain and Venezuela. (Fish Eaters has information on popular customs and more.) At the conclusion of Maundy Thursday services, the attitude in the Church becomes somber, dark and mournful. Church bells fall silent until Easter.

GOOD FRIDAY:
THE WAY OF THE CROSS

Man dressed as Jesus with red cloak, men dressed as Roman soldiers, imitating carrying of cross down busy modern street with crowds watching

A Good Friday procession in Germany. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

While in the Garden of Gesthemane on Thursday night, Christian tradition says that Jesus was located by the Romans—led by Judas Iscariot—and arrested. This led to interrogation, torture and eventually to Jesus’ death by the horrific Roman method of crucifixion.

Did you know? Abraham Lincoln was fatally shot by John Wilkes Booth on Good Friday of 1865.

In the Catholic Church, Good Friday is a fast day of the deepest solemnity. The altar is bare, vestments are red or black and the cross is venerated. (Readings for the day are available from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.)

The Way of the Cross takes place at the Colosseum in Rome and in many other places around the world. In many parishes, the Stations of the Cross recount Jesus’ journey to the site of the crucifixion. In countries such as Malta, Italy, the Philippines and Spain, processions carry statues of the Passion of Christ. In Britain, Australia and Canada, hot cross buns are traditionally consumed on Good Friday.

HOLY SATURDAY:
DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL

Congregation praying with priest sprinkling water over line of Easter baskets on center table

The Holy Saturday Blessing of Easter Baskets in Sanok, Poland. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Holy Saturday, or Black Saturday, ushers in with the darkness of Good Friday, commemorating the day that Jesus’ body lay in the tomb. The altar remains bare, or is draped in a simple black cloth. In Catholic parishes, the administration of sacraments is limited. Holy Saturday is a time of suspense, quiet and solemnity, as Christians continue to mourn the death of Jesus Christ. (Wikipedia has details.) In Catholic tradition, the Blessed Virgin Mary as Our Lady of Sorrows is given the title Our Lady of Solitude, for her grief at the earthly absence of her son, Jesus.

At approximately 6 p.m. on Holy Saturday, the Easter Vigil begins. A service that begins in darkness is illuminated, in Christian tradition, with the Light of Christ—the Paschal candle. After prayers, chants and biblical readings, “Gloria” is sung for the first time since Maundy Thursday. The church is flooded with light, statues covered during Passiontide are unveiled and the joy of the Resurrection begins. (For families with children too young to attend a late Saturday Mass, Women for Faith and Family suggests at-home activities.) The Paschal candle, the largest and most exquisite candle in the church, is lit each day throughout the Paschal season.

St. Patrick’s Day: Delve into Irish culture with the saint of Emerald Isle

Girl with red hair in traditional Irish dress in dark blue

An Irish dancer at the 2014 St. Patrick’s Day Parade in San Francisco. Photo by Mark, courtesy of Flickr

TUESDAY, MARCH 17: Tender corned beef, cold brews and plenty of green sweep across the globe today, as the world turns to the Emerald Isle for St. Patrick’s Day.

From New York City’s legendary parade to Dublin’s four-day festival; from Montreal’s shamrock pride to New Zealand’s green Sky Tower, there’s no shortage of Irish culture anywhere. This year, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny is scheduled to spend St. Pat’s in Washington with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, discussing global issues and participating together in the annual Shamrock Ceremony. Elsewhere, the Irish and Irish-at-heart will be marching in parades, wishing on four-leaf clovers and remembering that early Christian saint known as St. Patrick.

A DREAM AND A SHAMROCK

The legendary patron saint of Ireland began life c. 385 CE, in Roman Britain. With a wealthy family whose patron was a deacon, St. Patrick led a comfortable life until his teenage years, when he was kidnapped and taken as a slave to Gaelic Ireland. During his six years in Ireland, Patrick gained a deeper Christian faith. When he dreamed that God told him to flee to the coast, Patrick did so—and traveled home to become a priest. (Wikipedia has details.) Following ordination, however, another dream prompted Patrick to do what no one expected: to return to Ireland.

As a Christian in Ireland, Patrick worked to convert the pagan Irish. With a three-leaved shamrock in hand to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagans, St. Patrick converted many. St. Patrick died on March 17, 461 at Downpatrick.

PATRICK: IN THE CHURCH & AROUND THE WORLD

Surprisingly, the most widely known saint from Ireland was never formally canonized by the Catholic Church. Since no formal canonization process existed in the Church’s first millennium, St. Patrick was deemed a saint only by popular acclaim and local approval. Nonetheless, St. Patrick’s Day was made an official Christian feast day by the early 17th century, observed by the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Lutherans and members of the Church of Ireland. Today, countries the world over offer citizens and tourists Irish-themed foods, drinks and culture on March 17. Dances, processions, performances and more illustrate the vibrancy of Irish history—all set against the very Irish color of green.

Skillet pan with pot pie vegetables and meat in gravy and potatoes braised and mashed on top

Beef and lamb shepherd’s pie for St. Patrick’s Day. Photo by Dennis Wilkinson, courtesy of Flickr

RECIPES, CRAFT IDEAS AND MORE

Who doesn’t dream of hearty Irish stews, hot Reuben sandwiches and cold drinks on St. Patrick’s Day? Get into the Irish spirit with these recipe ideas (and some crafts, to boot):

  • A plethora of easy-to-follow recipes, from brisket to soda bread, is at AllRecipes.
  • Kids can get into the spirit of the Irish with craft ideas from PBS and Parenting.com.

Conversion of St. Paul: Christians recall the dramatic revelation of Saul

Perspective looking up at old stone statue of man with beard and robe, hand in front. Statue of Jesus in background

A statue of St. Paul, at the Vatican. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, JANUARY 25: Less than one month after commemoration of the martyrdom of St. Stephen, the Christian Church honors a man who participated in the stoning of the martyr before dramatically changing his life: Saul, celebrated today in the Conversion of Paul the Apostle. Originally named Saul and born in Tarsus, the future apostle at first persecuted Christians. Though he never met the living Jesus, Saul was struck by a blazing light one day on his way to Damascus, and in a few moments, he became a follower of Christ. (Read more from Catholic Culture.) Saul spent the rest of his life preaching as a Christian, for Jesus Christ.

Care to read more about Paul? You’ll enjoy our joint interview with Bible scholar John Dominic Crossan and the late Marcus Borg on their work in The First Paul.

Our Lady of Guadalupe: Catholic Christians pay homage to tilma image

Interior of shrine church, lit, looking down center aisle and people seated in pews on either side

The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, in Wisconsin. Note the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe hanging at a focal point behind the altar. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 12: A series of miracles central to the heart of Latin America are recalled is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Catholic accounts state that on the morning of Dec. 9, 1531, the peasant Juan Diego saw an apparition of a young girl at the Hill of Tepeyac, near Mexico City. Three days later, on Dec. 12, Juan Diego opened his cloak before a local bishop, and an image of Our Lady that is still vivid today was imprinted inside. The apparitions seen by Juan Diego bridged a gap between the natives’ belief systems and the Catholic religion. (Learn more from Global Catholic Network.) The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe has been cherished by Mexicans for centuries.

JUAN DIEGO AND THE APPARITION

According to Catholic tradition: On the morning of December 9, 1531, Juan Diego was on his way to Mass. While walking, Juan Diego spotted a young girl at the Hill of Tepeyac; the girl spoke to him in his native language, Nahuatl, and asked that a church be built at the site, in her honor. (Wikipedia has details.) Based on her words, Juan Diego recognized the girl as the Virgin Mary.

When Juan Diego approached Spanish Archbishop Fray Juan de Zumarraga, the archbishop asked for proof of the apparition’s identity. The Virgin Mary instructed Juan Diego to gather out-of-season Castilian roses from a hilltop, and to revisit the archbishop. Juan Diego opened his cloak before the archbishop, letting the roses fall to the floor, and there, on the inside of the tilma (cloak), was an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

ABOUT THE TILMA

According to Catholic sources: Several miracles have been associated with Juan Diego’s tilma through the centuries, including the very tilma itself: with its construction of coarse cactus fiber, the tilma should have degraded hundreds of years ago. The colors forming the image of Our Lady are as yet unidentified, and in 1951, photographers discovered reflections in the Virgin’s eyes that identify the individuals present at Juan Diego’s unveiling. Studies have revealed that the stars in Mary’s mantle match what would have been seen in the Mexican sky in December of 1531.

MILLIONS FLOCK TO MARIAN PILGRIMAGE SITE

The Virgin Mary has been deemed the “Queen of Mexico,” and in 1945, Pope Pius XII declared her the the Empress of all the Americas. Currently, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe competes for the most visited Catholic pilgrimage destination in the world. Peasant Juan Diego was canonized in 2002.

A MEXICAN MENU, GUADALUPE HYMNS AND MORE

Catholics everywhere can honor Our Lady of Guadalup with a novena, or with a Mexican dinner in honor of Juan Diego and the basilica. (Find recipes at Fine Cooking and Food.com. For novenas and more, visit CatholicCulture.org.) Beef broth, flan, Mexican bread pudding and mole poblano—finished with café con leche—could all contribute to a dinner feast for the occasion.

 

Stir-up Sunday: Observe Feast of Christ the King with plum pudding

“And he hath on his garment and on his thigh written: King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”
Revelation 19:16

Christmas pudding on red plate with white sauce on top

Steamed Christmas pudding, traditionally made on Stir-up Sunday. Photo courtesy of Christmas Stock Images

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 23: Prepare the Christmas pudding and pay tribute to Jesus triumphant on the Feast of Christ the King. During the last Sunday before Advent, Western Christian churches (Roman Catholics and most Protestants) recognize Jesus as the king of the Church and of every nation; throughout the Advent season, Christians await the “coming King.”

For the world’s billion-plus Catholics, an official Feast of Christ the King was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI in response to what he saw as growing secularism around the world. The pontiff emphasized Christ’s royal reign over all nations and peoples. (Wikipedia has details.)

Culturally, the Sunday before Advent had long been associated with the “stir-up” of Christmas puddings—thus earning the nickname, “Stir-up Sunday.”

CHRISTMAS PLUM PUDDING:
A STIR-UP SUNDAY TRADITION

The Book of Common Prayer of 1549 (CE) contained a collect (opening prayer) that was used in Mass on the last Sunday before Advent. Its contents read, in part: “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people …” Christmas puddings traditionally had to stand for several weeks, and as such, this reminder to “stir up” was taken literally by cooks, who would begin making puddings after the day’s church services. Though more popular in Britain than the U.S., puddings were and still are a part of the Feast of Christ the King. Families can still gather in the kitchen after Mass, soaking dried fruits and stirring the pudding that will grace the Christmas table. In some households, elders place coins and other trinkets in the pudding, which are believed to bring luck and health to the recipient.

Regional variations of the traditional Christmas pudding are as diverse as the places from which they come, and ingredients can range from dried plums, orange peels and currants to macadamia nuts and dried pineapple. Those looking for a traditional recipe can turn to Catholic Culture and the BBC food blog. Savvy cooks can check out what chefs out of the UK are saying this year. The best part about trying a hand at steaming the Christmas pudding? Reviving a tradition that is in danger of being lost.

ACTIVITIES AND RESOURCES 

In many parts of the Christian Church, congregations organize processions for Christ the King and recite prayers with this intention. Catholic Culture encourages adherents to read the writings from Pope Pius XI and Pope John Paul II on Christ as king (readings and more available here).