We are at the end of semester at St. Mary’s Academy in Inglewood, California, where I am a theology teacher and Director of Campus Ministry. Soon we will have two weeks of vacation, a moment to reflect on the blessings of the fall semester. I know I am not alone in feeling that the interim between Thanksgiving and Christmas es lo peor! There is always a to-do list, papers that need grading, and last minute Christmas shopping that needs to be endured. For the last few years I have felt a dip in excitement for las fiestas Navideñas. It’s largely in part due to the pandemic, but I also feel that as I get older the holidays just don’t “hit” like they used to. Perhaps it’s the focus on consumerism, changing family dynamics, or the decentralization of the sacred meaning of Christmas. Whatever might be the case, I long for the excitement I felt when I was a teenager.
Growing up my family would make the two day drive from Bakersfield, California to Uruapan, Michoacán, México. Uruapan is my hometown and a majority of our family still lives there. As with many, my parents took advantage of the two weeks of vacation to make the trek to México to celebrate with familia. A highlight was my maternal grandmother’s pesebre, or Crèche/manger, depicting the Nativity of Jesus. I remember taking in every piece of the pesebre, from the variety of animals to the figurines that were missing ears or fading in color. In our barrio in Uruapan, the families hosting the Posadas would have an unspoken competition over who created the most beautiful pesebre and who would give out the best food and treats.
Las Posadas are not a solitary event but a period of preparation leading up to Christmas Eve (December 16-24). Every night we walked from house to house reenacting the Holy Family’s search for posada/lodging in Bethlehem, all while singing the Posada songs. The Posada Letania is essentially a call and response between those walking the streets in search of posada and those we encounter along the way. All homes are to deny lodging until we come to the house that is hosting the posada that night. The night is filled with prayers, singing, and celebration! As we stepped inside the host’s home, all eyes would feast upon their pesebre, which was our gathering site for prayer before some festivities. Some pesebres had lights while others had intricate landscapes made of stacked boxes covered in moss. Hosting a Posada is a serious financial commitment! Not only would you need to provide treats and food for those attending the Posada, but you would need to carefully plan and purchase the supplies necessary to create a pesebre worthy of being photographed.
As the night progressed, piñatas would be brought out for the kids and refreshments would be passed around as the señoras critiqued the quality of cooking and the generosity of the host. he kids, meanwhile, were consumed in their aguinaldo (treat bag) filled with peanuts, animal crackers, tangerines, and an assortment of candy.
Unfortunately, the focus of Las Posadas has shifted to the giveaways rather than centering on the Nativity story. Over the years, Posada aguinaldos have been more commercialized and include larger giveaways, depending on the financial feasibility of the host family. The barrio where my maternal grandmother lived was not the wealthiest part of town, so kids were more than content with fruit and small candies. I have so many fond memories of the Posadas and I feel extremely fortunate to have experienced this remembrance of the birth of Jesus in the city of my birth. There is great symbolism in that: remembrance, origin story, family, and tradition. These, I feel, are the gifts of Las Posadas and our faith.
A practice that keeps me grounded on the Divine is Visio Divina, or “divine seeing.” Visio Divina allows us to gaze tenderly at a visual element. As with Lectio Divina, the repetitive nature allows for re-centering and focus. I have a printed image of a mural from my hometown of Uruapan depicting a viejito in traditional clothing with his beard flowing into streams of water. At the bottom right, a young boy looks up in amazement. This mural helps me to focus on tradition and transmission of faith, much like Las Posadas. I invite you to mediate on a sacred image that reflects your own Posada story:
Step 1: Find an image for this exercise of Visio Divina.
Step 2: Sit comfortably and take a few deep breaths.
Step 3: When you feel ready, spend a few minutes gazing at your image.
Take in every piece of it, including the small details.
What feelings does this image bring to the surface?
What is God’s invitation through this image?
What challenges are present in my spiritual search for Posada?
Step 4: Journal for a few moments or sit quietly. Then, breathe in gratitude for the opportunity to reflect and dig deeper.
Alejandra Angel is the Director of Campus Ministry at St. Mary’s Academy in Inglewood, California, where she also teaches theology. As a Campus Minister she strives to empower young women to claim their voices in the Church through service, lay preaching, and retreats. She was born in Mexico and was raised in Bakersfield, California, and proudly identifies as Generation 1.5!