In Mexico, posadas bring early Christmas spirit, community

In Mexico, posadas bring early Christmas spirit, community

MEXICO CITY (AP) — For Miguel Zadquiel, the secret to staying in step as he dances through his neighborhood at the head of the annual Christmas procession lies in the bass drum.

MEXICO CITY (AP) — For Miguel Zadquiel, the secret to staying in step as he dances through his neighborhood at the head of the annual Christmas procession lies in the bass drum.

“For every sound it makes, I move one foot, then another, then jump around, then flex my shoulders,” he said.

The 14-year-old was one of dozens of dancers and musicians leading the merry parade of people who meandered through the streets of Mexico’s Xochimilco neighborhood this week. Known as the posada, this festive procession and associated events take place across the country. The annual Catholic tradition lasts nine nights, beginning on December 16th and ending on December 24th.

The style of each posada varies from town to town, but traditionally it is a re-enactment of part of the Christmas story. Night after night, two volunteers dress up as Mary and Joseph and go through their parish, knocking on a different door each day of the posada season. Their journey symbolizes the biblical couples’ journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem and the eventual refuge they find in a stable where Jesus is born.

Some neighbors join the parade with candles. Others are waiting for it to arrive at the house, where the couple playing the sacred couple is finally received and the celebration continues. There’s singing, traditional food sharing and a piñata broken open when the brightly colored papier-mâché container gives way and candy spills into the hands of the waiting children.

The posada season in Xochimilco is unique in that the neighborhood honors the Niñopa—the district’s most venerated image of the baby Jesus and its patron saint—while honoring the story of Mary and Joseph.

“This is my first time coming and I really like how cheerful everything is,” said Donaldo López, who lives about an hour away but was invited by his sister, who recently moved to Xochimilco.

Beside him, two young girls threw confetti on the street while their mother got her camera ready to take a picture of Niñopa. The origin of the Niñopa is unclear, but the life-size wooden figure of a baby in white is thought to be around 450 years old and was found after the Spanish conquest. Catholic families in Xochimilco typically keep pictures of him in their homes.

“He is very wonderful,” said Fernanda Mimila, a resident of Xochimilco, who watched the procession. “We have read many stories about him and every time my family and I are near him we can feel his mood and we feel like crying.”

Believers were once permitted to touch and carry the Niñopa, but it is now considered too old for frequent handling and requires more care to maintain its condition, Abraham Cruz said. The resident of Xochimilco and his relatives had the honor of hosting the Niñopa in their home for this year’s 6th posada and held a celebration for it, a usual event during the posadas season. Families ask to host the Niñopa years in advance.

“Today’s posada was assigned 10 years ago,” Cruz said. “The family that organized the second posada of this season had to wait 28 years!”

The xochimilco posadas last a few hours longer than most and begin at 8am when the host family picks up the niñopa from their stewards. It ends about a dozen hours later when the figure is returned. Throughout the day, a priest celebrates Mass, a meal is served, and worshipers can approach the home-made altar where the Niñopa is kept until nightfall.

Anyone can join the nightly celebration, when volunteers hand out sparklers, balloons, and confetti. Couples holding hands, young men pushing their grandmothers in wheelchairs and parents hugging their children to keep them warm liven up the neighborhood.

This week, hundreds of neighbors in shiny hats moved alongside the musicians and dancers, like 14-year-old Miguel Zadquiel, who led the procession and kickstarted the festive spirit. The group of dancers at the top – known as “comparsa” – is dedicated to a specific image of the Infant Jesus. Each member wears a long velvet robe, a large drum-like hat, and a mask depicting an old man – a costume meant to mock the Spanish conquerors.

The couple – a girl and a boy for the 6th posada of the season – playing Mary and Joseph follow the dancers. At the end, the Niñopa slowly makes her way through the crowd in the minibus.

Magda Reyes, dressed in pink, walked alongside her daughters, 7 and 11. She has been frequenting these posadas since she was a child.

“We are very devoted to the Niñopa,” she said. “My mom used to bring me here to celebrate it, so now I’m bringing my girls.”

On the last night of the posada season, the procession arrives at its destination, where the crowd will sing a lullaby to Baby Jesus to once again welcome the arrival of the Christ Child on Christmas Day.


The Associated Press’s religion coverage is supported by AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. AP is solely responsible for this content.

María Teresa Hernández, The Associated Press

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