Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas in Mexico

Yesterday we enjoyed a great Christmas service with Martín and Laura Méndez and the congregation in Santa Bárbara.  A small choir I tried to organize sang several songs during the service, and Martín preached a super sermon on the prophecies leading up to the birth of the Messiah.  Then, ham and turkey in abundance, with pasta and salad.  Oh, I may have missed the salad...

The majority culture in Mexico is not evangelical.  This time of the year, many different customs and traditions are celebrated by the Catholic church, the most famous of them being posadas.  I'm going to include a bit of a document I wrote several years ago, reflecting on this.  See below.

Last night the whole family saw The Hobbit.  I loved it, we all loved it.  I was a bit skeptical when I heard that one novel was being stretched into three movies, but now we all can't wait to see the next one!

A very Merry Christmas to all, and may we all try to comprehend, even just a little bit deeper, what it meant for the Creator of the Universe to become a baby.

Below...a pic of the family opening some Christmas gifts this morning sent by their grandparents in PA.  Thanks so much, mom and dad!

Christmas in Mexico
Despite many years spent in Mexico during the Christmas season, I find myself surprised. I know there are many rituals connected to Christmas in Mexico. And I know that many of those rituals can be linked directly to the Catholic church; but this year, I have learned there are some practices that have roots predating even the Catholic conquest.

We were for the first time in my experience here, invited to a full-fledged Posada, organized by our 23-house community. Earlier in the day on the radio I heard the announcer touting the uniqueness of this custom. Apparently, it is done nowhere else, at least not quite like it is done here. The reason why I have not been a part of this custom up to this point is that it is also a very Catholic tradition. It is, essentially, the reenactment of Joseph and Mary’s quest to find lodging in Bethlehem, only to be denied, until finally setting in a manger for the night. There are other aspects involved to, which I will mention.

Two people play the roles of Joseph and Mary, and the whole group follows them, arriving at various predetermined houses, where entrance to the house is denied. Finally, at the last house Joseph and Mary are received, and the whole entourage enjoys ponche, a special fruity Christmas punch, colación  (candy) and most times a pretty spectacular meal. The children enjoy a piñata (often times more than one) after the meal, or sometimes even before the meal. This is the most common enactment of the posada.  It begins and ends in one evening. 

Normally, people take advantage of the posada time as a very good excuse to have a party.  Mexicans generally take advantage of even bad excuses to have parties…people here are always having parties and shooting rockets and fireworks into the air.  But now I know, a real posada is something much more extensive and serious. An authentic posada happens every night for nine consecutive nights, culminating on Christmas Eve. Every night during this time, a letanía, or litany, is chanted during the walk around the block. I have in front of me a little booklet entitled, Antigua novena para posadas.  On one of the pages, the Letanía a la Santísima Virgen María is written out in two columns. After beginning with a few titles about the trinity written in Latin, the litany mentions 50 titles of the Virgin Mary, including: Holy Mother of God, Virgin Worthy of Worship, Queen Conceived Without Original Sin, Refuge of Sinners and Cause of Our Joy.

During the posada a miniature nativity scene with the personalities of Joseph and Mary are also carried around. During the last night of the posada–Christmas Eve–a figurine of the Baby Jesus is “arrullado”.  The best translation for this would be “sung a lullaby”. The baby Jesus is sung to, and then placed in the manger to awake there on Christmas day. This ceramic baby, anywhere from 6-12 inches long, is worshipped as he is placed in the manger. It was always curious to me why no evangelical Christian family that I ever met had a nativity scene in their home. This is the reason.  As hard to believe as it may be in our materialist western world, people actually worship this little Jesus doll.

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