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The celebration of Las Posadas is observed for nine days in December. It goes from December 16 to 24 each year.  Although it originated in Mexico, it has now started to become popular in the United States, especially in Hispanic neighborhoods. 

The name "Las Posadas" means "The Inn or Shelter."  The traditional Mexican observance is to reenact Mary and Joseph's search for shelter as they traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem during the days before Christ Jesus was born.

The Las Posadas celebration can take place differently in each area; but, all have the same common theme of reenacting the nativity.  In Mexico, entire villages observe this. In the United States it's a little difficult for an entire town to observe Las Posadas. So it usually is done in neighborhoods or on certain streets.  But, in some areas there are very large celebrations that are open to everyone in the town and tourists.

 It begins with a group of neighbors and friends who visit each other's homes reenacting Mary and Joseph's search for place to spend the night.  The processions can sometimes be held in churches or in the streets.  The villagers carry lit candles.  A child dressed as an angel usually leads the procession. Other children  will pull a wagon that has a nativity scene erected on it.

In some locations, the word "posadas" is synonymous with "parties."  These parties are given every night for 9 nights during the celebration leading up to Christmas Day.

On the 9th day, everyone will gather at a specific house, where the situation of Mary and Joseph's search for lodging is reenacted at the door of each room. Then, on the stroke of midnight, the hostess of the house, leads the actors to a table that has been prepared. Images of Mary and Joseph are placed on this table and the feasting begins.

An essential part of the Las Posadas party is a piñata for the children.  This piñata is usually in the shape of a star to represent the one that guided the three kings on that night.

In the poorer areas, it is customary for friends and neighbors to get together and share the costs involved in celebrating Las Posadas.  This is more common in Mexico, where Christmas is more of a community event, rather than a family one.  

The most well-known Posadas celebration in the United States is held in Los Angeles on Olvera Street.

The piñata really originated in Italy during the Renaissance. It was used to entertain adults at masquerade balls.  Today it's a major party game to entertain children.

The piñata was originally jar made of clay or pottery. It is  usually filled with candy. In some cases, small toys can also be inside. Then it was covered with papier-mâché and colored tissue paper to resemble an animal, bird, clown, ball or any other playful object. As I said above, for Las Posadas the common piñata  is shaped like a star. 

The object of the fun is to try to break the pinata open to get the candy that's inside. The pinata is hung from a tree or a hook in the ceiling.  Children are blindfolded. They are then given a stick and try to break the piñata.  The children get so excited about breaking it, that they swing to and fro, often swinging at each other.  Once it's broken, everyone frantically scrambles to collect small toys and candy that's inside.

In Mexico, the last piñata of the Christmas season is broken on Christmas Eve.  Also on the last night, the final Posada is held and every one goes to midnight mass.  They return to celebrate a big feast.

 

Return to our December Holidays Page for more celebrations.

Source of Information:
"Holidays, Symbols & Customs  3rd Edition"
By Sue Ellen Thompson
Omnigraphics, Inc. © 2003

Piñata Animation was public domain. I re-colorized parts of it for visual effect.

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