Posada is a Spanish word that means 'inn', and is also the title for a Mexican Advent celebration in which two young people dressed as Mary and Joseph travelled from house to house in their village to proclaim the imminent arrival of Jesus and request that the newborn baby be given a room.
On Christmas Eve they would re-enact a community play and bring figures of Mary and Joseph to be placed in a crib at church.
The idea has been updated so that nativity figures travel round the parish from place to place, staying at a different house every night, and finally taking their place in the church crib at the Crib Service, ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on Christmas day.
Mary and Joseph's journey through the parish reminds us that we need to make room for Jesus in our lives, homes and communities.
Our church has child-sized Mary and Joseph figures which travel around the parish during Advent, visiting a different home every day.
The figures are too large to be ignored, and are usually included in lots of family activities.
They can sit on the sofa to listen to a story, sit up at the table during meal times, and even be put to bed in the spare room.
They travel with a folder of suggestions for prayers and activities, and also a journal for diary entries, photos and pictures about their activities to be slotted in.
They set off from the church Advent Fair, visiting Junior Church, and the church toddler group en route, and return in time for the crib service.
Posada at St Mary the Virgin, Houghton with Wyton
Our church has a knitted nativity set with lots of sheep. Mary and Joseph travel around the parish throughout Advent, leaving a sheep at every house they stay in. The families bring the sheep to church on Christmas Eve and place them in the stable during the crib service.
Photograph and information about this Posada courtesy of Liz Lee, ALM Children's Minister, St Mary's, Houghton with Wyton.
Posada in the Home
At home, our crib figures journey around the house through Advent, in four groups: Mary, Joseph and the donkey; the shepherd and sheep; the angels; and the wise men.
The first three groups assemble at the crib on Christmas Eve and the baby is laid in the manger just before bed time. The wise men arrive at Epiphany. We now have several crib sets and the permutations of travelling figures are endless!
The Church Army website has resources for activities and prayers: www.churcharmy.uk.org/posada
Dave Brubeck has recorded an album of songs for 'La Fiesta de la Posada' – Sony, 1995, conducted by Dennis Russell Davies.
For instructions on how to make these Posada figures: Click here
Las Posadas (Spanish for "the Inns") is a traditional Spanish festival, which lasts for nine days from 16th to 24th December.
It is based on the text from chapter 2 of Luke's Gospel: "She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn".
It symbolises the hardship of Mary and Joseph's journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem and their difficulty in finding a place to stay where Mary could have her baby.
Each night during the festival a family in a neighbourhood takes it in turns to host the Posada and act as innkeepers for the night. The other villagers process from house to house as pilgrims, singing a traditional hymn requesting a bed for the night for the weary Mary and Joseph.
The procession is headed by a child carrying a candle in a paper lantern. Four young people follow, carrying small statues of Joseph and Mary riding on a donkey. After this come the rest of the children, then the adults and finally musicians.
Each pilgrim carries a candle and some of the children blow whistles to accompany the singing.
The procession visits three houses. Mary and Joseph are refused entry at the first two houses, before being admitted at the third.
At each house it divides into two, with one group singing the parts of Mary and Joseph asking for shelter.
The other group sings the innkeeper who either refuses, or finally allows entry.
When third innkeeper has sung a song of welcome, the Mary and Joseph figures are brought inside and placed in the family nativity scene.
The pilgrims kneel around, pray the Rosary and sing traditional carols. The original Posada script is thought to have been written by St John of the Cross.
The festival is popular in Latin America, especially Mexico, where young people traditionally dress as Joseph and Mary riding a real donkey, accompanied by angels and shepherds, and stay at a different house each night.
The celebration at the 'inn' includes a festival feast on the patio, where children are often given a colourful pinata (sometimes shaped like a star). They sing a special song, and take it in turns to be blindfold and hit the pinata with a stick, until oranges, tangerines, peanuts in their shells, candy canes and other sweets fall out.
Fireworks are also let off during the party.
On the final night of the festival, Christmas Eve, the whole community acts out a play of the nativity.
Two adults carry the image of the Christ Child, and act as 'god-parents'.
The children bring offerings of fruit and flowers and some make little speeches. The evening ends with music and folk dancing. Sometimes on Christmas Eve the procession goes on to the church for Midnight Mass, where the figures of the Holy Family are placed in the church nativity scene, and, after midnight, the figure of the Christ Child is added.