Posadas Navidenas: Mexican Catholics mark 9 colorful nights

Pile of tamales wrapped in strings

Tamales take center stage at many Las Posadas meals. Photo by Stefani, courtesy of Flickr

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 16: The lively nights known as Las Posadas begin in Mexico, Guatemala and parts of the United States, bringing tasty dishes, cheerful carols and unified communities. A nine-night celebration originally from Spain, Posadas Navidenas begins December 16 and ends on December 24. Posada, Spanish for “lodging,” or “accommodation,” reenacts Mary and Joseph’s search for a safe, warm place to welcome the infant Jesus. Las Posadas has been a tradition throughout Mexico for 400 years.

Each night of Posadas Navidenas, a small, candlelit procession travels through a neighborhood. The procession stops at designated houses and asks permission to stay, but as is prearranged, the homeowners turn the visitors away. Finally, a host family for the evening (or, in some regions, a church) welcomes the visitors inside, and everyone kneels before a Nativity scene to pray. (Wikipedia has details.) After prayer, traditional tamales and ponche navideno are typically served with rompope, a drink similar to eggnog. Children may take turns hitting a five- or seven-pointed pinata, and the pinata is often filled with dried fruit, sugar sticks, nuts and candies.

A boy hits a Las Posadas pinata. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A boy hits a Las Posadas pinata. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

THE LAS POSADAS PROCESSION

As processions slowly move down the streets each night of Las Posadas, additional members join the children. In most processions, select children dress as Mary, Joseph, shepherds and angels—or, the children carry images of these holy figures. Musicians sometimes follow the group, which sings at each doorstep while beckoning for a place to stay.

Las Posadas processions are gaining popularity in the Southwest United States, but the reenactments can be organized in any community.

Did you know? The popular rompope drink is believed to have been created by nuns in the convent of Santa Clara, in Puebla.

Cinco de Mayo: Celebrating Mexican courage, culture, cuisine and Our Lady of Guadalupe, too

SUNDAY, MAY 5: Ole!

An hispanic young woman wearing a colorful traditional dress dancing in street festival

A Cinco de Mayo dancer in a festival organized by Columbia University. Photo in public domain

Bring out the salsa verde and turn up the Latin music! It’s Cinco de Mayo. For one day, Mexican culture resonates around the world: The American President officially declares the holiday; Canadians hold street festivals; Australians put on a cultural fest and Brits celebrate with a toast to Mexico. (Wikipedia has details.) Ironically, this global recognition of the Mexican nation didn’t start in Mexico. It started in the United States, where Americans of Mexican origin were commemorating a Mexican victory in the Battle of Puebla of 1862.

That era in Latin American history is complex, but basically involved European imperial powers seeking to take over Mexico. The force that landed in 1862 and waged war for five years was French. Other European powers assumed that the French would conquer Mexico with little resistance. The Battle of Puebla—on May 5, 1862—certainly did not win the war for the Mexicans. Nevertheless, the Mexican victory was celebrated as demonstrating the people’s courage and ability to defeat one of Europe’s most powerful armies. (Learn more at History.com.)

May 5 is still celebrated throughout the state of Puebla, in Mexico, and most widely in the United States. Many American schools and communities hold Mexican educational events, and iconic Mexican symbols—including the Virgin of Guadalupe—are displayed.

CINCO DE MAYO: LOOKING FOR TASTY MEXICAN RECIPES?

Of course, what is Cinco de Mayo without some tantalizing Mexican recipes? Try a few suggestions from Food Network, the Huffington Post and Fox News. For kids, Kaboose has Cinco crafts and activities.

This year’s yummiest Cinco de Mayo food story, though, comes from the Smithsonian Magazine. Given the Smithsonian’s interest in cultural authenticity, the magazine story reports: “What America’s Cinco de Mayo misses is the traditional food of Mexico, named to the UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage, a recognition given to only one other cuisine (French). … What makes traditional Mexican fare worthy of such a distinction? You won’t find cumin-soaked ground beef in hard shell tacos topped with iceberg and cheddar. But, you will find beef barbacoa that has been smoked underground in banana leaves or carnitas topped with queso fresco, pickled onions and homemade salsa verde wrapped in a warm homemade corn tortilla that has been ever so lightly heated on a comal.”

Read the entire Smithsonian story, complete with a half dozen tasty—and authentic—recipes!

(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion, values and cultural diversity.)