Christmas miracles come in all forms. Last year, I got my Christmas miracle when I realized/accepted/surrendered that I am not a Pinterest Does Christmas kind of mama. Intricate crafts and cutesy recipes are drool-worthy in my Pinterest feed, but they don’t jive with my real life and make me feel Grinchy. These things hold no passion for me, and so it is unnatural and frustrating for me to try to do them. What I do love is travel and learning about other cultures, so it is easy and exciting to me to study world customs with Christmas as a backdrop.
As the culmination of my Pinterest ignoring miracle, I purposed to study at least one new country and its Christmas customs each year, adding crafts, cooking, and traditions into the celebration. My hope was to give my kids a glimpse into a new country and culture, and maybe even add a few new traditions to our family Christmas celebrations.
Celebrating Christmas in Mexico with Las Posadas
The nine day celebration, known as Las Posadas, originated in Spain and is now most commonly practiced in Mexico, Guatemala, and in some southwestern parts of America. The festivities begin on December 16th and continue for nine days until December 24th, symbolizing the nine months that Mary carried Jesus in her womb. Each night of the festival, families gather in the neighborhood to re-enact the pidiendo posada, or the plea for lodging from Mary and Joseph when they returned to Bethlehem. In a procession, participants carry candles and wooden statues of Mary and Joseph from house to house. At each house, the group sings a song asking for shelter, but the “Innkeepers” at each house retort with a song of refusal. Finally, a chosen Innkeeper welcomes the travelers with a joyous song, and all enter the home for a feast and party.
Setting the Stage
For every celebration, I planned to incorporate at least one recipe, one traditional activity, and one craft. If we could, we would add a few traditional-ish decorations to make the party more festive. Bonus points would be awarded if the craft or activity could somehow do double duty as a decoration.
To give an overview of the celebration, we first watched a short, animated Disney clip that explains the tradition of Las Posadas in kid language. For the older kids, we added another video clip from The Other Side of the Tortilla that shows how their family celebrates las posadas. Both movies gave a great visual understanding of the customs and background of the holiday.
To add a bit of color to our festivities, we added some poinsettias to our front porch, along with a reading of the Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie dePaola. Of course, the kids already associated poinsettias with Christmas and were excited to learn that this tradition came our country from Mexico. Weaving pieces of our current traditions to other places will help to make them more relevant and meaningful, I hope.
Crafts and Recipes for Celebrating Las Posadas
In the spirit of multitasking, we decided to create luminarias as both a craft and a decoration for our celebration. While I set the older boys loose with a hole punch and some brown lunch sacks (hello easy button), the little guy busied himself with stuffing the piñata. With the piñata stuffed and hung on the back porch and the luminarias lining the pathway, we turned our attention to the kitchen and the meal.
Fortunately, we live in an area where we have access to authentic Mexican food, so I had some tamales ready for the main course. For dessert, we had a choice between bunuelos– a fried, sugary donut like ball, or flan- a dessert I have always wanted to perfect. We couldn’t come to a quorum on just one, so we decided to make both. The bunuelos turned out so delicious that there weren’t any left for me to take a picture, and the flan turned out slightly less than picturesque, but good for a first try.
The Procession and Party
With dinner warmed and ready, the kids headed out with a candle in one hand and a wooden Mary, Joseph and Donkey in the other. With hilarity, we faked our way through the traditional songs in Spanish, while dad played the role of the innkeeper at the house. By the time we arrived at the grand finale, we were rolling in laughter at our mangled Spanglish, and although I am sure that was not traditional, it certainly made it memorable for our family.
Dinner was served and delicious, with every last bunuelos eaten and the plate licked clean. To close the celebration, we stepped onto the porch for a piñata beating by candlelight. The luminarias gave a warm glow that was enough to illuminate the candy when it finally burst forth from the piñata. With laps full of candy, we gathered around the candles and basked in the peace of the candlelight and the enjoyment of a new holiday tradition.
For a full list of resources, visit Mommy Maestra for a fantastic list of books, lesson plans, recipes, and crafts.