Las Posadas – Welcoming the Coming of Christ
In the Spanish speaking world, it is customary to prepare for Christmas through nine days of celebration known as “las Posadas,” literally, “the inns” or “the lodgings.” As part of this celebration, a girl and a boy, dressed as Mary and Joseph, go with family and friends from house to house for nine days in a row, singing and asking for shelter. At each house, they are turned away, until on the last night, at the last house, they are welcomed inside and all share in a party.
The song for Las Posadas is sung back and forth by those outside and those inside. Those outside speak as Joseph, asking for lodging for himself and his pregnant wife. Those inside refuse entry to the pilgrims, citing lack of room and the fact that it is late and these are unknown strangers at the door. The final plea, the one that gains them entrance, is the one asking shelter for Mary, the Queen of Heaven and soon to be Mother of the Divine Word. On hearing this introduction, those inside apologize for not understanding who it was that was seeking entrance. They welcome the outsiders into the house, singing, “Enter, holy pilgrims, receive this corner, for though this dwelling is poor, I offer it with all my heart.” The song continues with the offer of the singer’s soul as a place of lodging for Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
I have seen several versions of the words and the tune for the Posada, but the theme is the same. The Holy Family is traveling, needing shelter, appearing as the stranger. No one is willing to help them. The house is full; strangers can be a danger to the household; it’s late; the claims of those asking for help seem pretty wild. (She’s a queen? Yeah, right! Why’s she out so late at night and alone?) Then comes the moment of recognition – the visitors are Heaven-sent – and welcome follows, both physically and spiritually, as the visitors enter into our homes and our hearts.
In these last few days before Christmas, whether we celebrate them with a Posada, or a novena, or simply by lighting the candles on our Advent Wreath, it is a time to remember to smile at the stranger, wait our turn patiently in the long lines at the stores, and offer a prayer for peace for ourselves and those around us. After all, who knows when the stranger we encounter will be a visitor from God who will touch our heart and who awaits our loving response.