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Tradition of Mexico Lives On in Posadas

December 05, 1991|OLGA BRISENO

For the past 15 years, Lupe Cardona and a number of people from St. John's Catholic Church in Encinitas have set aside nine days in December to celebrate the Mexican Christmas tradition of the posada.

From Dec. 16 through Dec. 24, Cardona and her neighbors re-enact the search by Mary and Joseph for lodging, or posada, in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. Each of the nine nights, participants travel to a designated home, where they sing, pray and celebrate. Some attend all nine nights; others just one or two.

Posadas are primarily organized through churches, but they also can be organized by families or neighbors. And, although they are a Latino tradition, they can be enjoyed by many cultures. Some posadas are primarily religious and some are primarily social, although both components are always present to some degree.

The posada for the community of St. John's is one of the largest and oldest in North County and can move from Encinitas to Cardiff or Leucadia, depending on who has offered to host it that evening. Communication about the posada is primarily through the church bulletin and word of mouth.

Dating from the 16th Century, the tradition was brought to Mexico and later to the Southwest by the Spanish missionaries who used theatrics to teach Christianity.

Today, children carrying statues of Mary and Joseph lead a candlelight procession to the home where the posada is planned. There they ask for lodging through the Spanish songs that have been sung for centuries. It is the tradition that they be rejected, turned away by the "innkeeper," so they ask again and again.

"In the name of heaven, I ask you for lodging to keep on going because my beloved wife is unable," they sing in Spanish.

The response from inside the house is: "This is not an inn, continue on your way. I can't open the door. You might be a rogue."

Finally, they are allowed in.

"Come in holy pilgrims, accept this corner," they sing. "Not of this poor house, but of my heart. This is a night of happiness, of joy and rejoicing because the hospitality here is to the mother of God, the son."

Once inside there are more songs sung around the nativity scene. The rosary is said and the fiesta begins. Traditionally, tamales , pozole, aroz con leche, herbed tea or pastries are served. Candles and sometimes a pinata are set up for the children. Large amounts of food are prepared since there's no way of knowing ahead of time how many people will be coming.

The last night of posada is held on Christmas Eve. Because children are usually anxious to get home to open gifts, this posada is often shorter than other nights.

At St. John's, the final posada is held at the church and is followed by a Mass.

Cardona, now a grandmother, has been observing the posada for as long as she can remember. She is the keeper of the scripts and songs that, according to tradition, should be sung at all posadas. For her, the songs and the prayers remind her of old friends and family. Every year, her grandfather would open his home in Jalisco, Mexico, to host the last day of the posada. That night, they would all sing the "Lullaby of the Child."

"Practically the whole town would show up," Cardona said. "He would make tamales for everyone."

Posadas are still celebrated throughout the Southwest and range in style from being a religious event to being a big party. For newcomers to an area, hosting a posada is a way to become established in the community. Lasting friendships are often formed at posadas, although for some the link may only be renewed from year to year.

"When I celebrate this, it's important to me because it reminds me that I belong and that I have a culture," Cardona said. "It reaffirms my ethnic identity.

"My sons were born here and have grown up here. It is important that they know our traditions, enjoy them and take pride in them. We don't want to lose that."

Cardona believes that now, probably more than in previous years, the posada holds special meaning. She sees it as an opportunity for families to open their homes to the less fortunate in their communities and offer them food and shelter.

"In the beginning, the posada was a way to bring people into the church," she said. "There is now more significance to the posada than just tradition. There are people, like Mary and Joseph, who don't have a place to live or food, the poor. We're in the process of changing to understand that what is happening today is affecting us."

Anyone interested in setting up a posada can contact Lupe Cardona at 753-7784 for more information. She has a collection of songs and scripts traditional to the posada to share.

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