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Celebrating La Navidad

Posadas, Piñatas, and Pageantry

Many Latin American countries celebrate the story of Christ’s birth with weeks of wonderful processions, theatre, and religious ceremony. Some of these traditions have traveled to our country—to the Southwest states as well as to other Latino communities—so you may be able find local festivities that honor your child’s heritage. Or consider adding these traditions to your own.

Las Posadas: In Guatemala and Mexico, the Christmas season begins in mid-December with the tradition of Las Posadas (the inns). Children, dressed as Joseph and Mary, reenact their search for shelter by stopping at “inns” dispersed throughout the town to ask for lodging. They are repeatedly turned away until, finally, an innkeeper welcomes them, and a festive party ensues, with music, food, and, in Mexico, a piñata for the children.

This elaborate procession is repeated for nine nights, ending on New Year’s Eve. For an abbreviated version of Las Posadas, condense the event to one night, and have your young Joseph and Mary travel from room to room of your house.

Nacimientos: The making of Nativity scenes is a complex craft in Mexico, Guatemala, Venezuela, Peru, and other South American countries. Entire miniature villages surround the empty manger. There are vendors with vegetable carts, women making tortillas, and farmers milking cows. Scenes from other Bible stories are sometimes incorporated, as are mountains, waterfalls, and the occasional, unlikely covering of snow. On Christmas Eve, a “godparent” gently places a figure of the Baby Jesus in the scene’s manger.

Day of the Three Kings: The major day of gift-giving in Panama, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Paraguay is January 6, the date that the Three Wise Men supposedly brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the newborn Christ Child. In some countries, children leave their shoes outside the door the night before, along with some straw for the Magi’s camels. If they’ve been good, the next morning they’ll find the presents they’ve been hoping for. If not, they find lumps of coal in their shoes.

Rochelle Green is a freelance writer and editor living in Connecticut.

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