Christmas is our day to celebrate Jesus’ birthday. But in the shuffle of the holiday season, the original intent of the holiday can also get swept up in holiday busy work, no matter how well-intended we are. But we can take out a page from the cultural traditions of Mexico to reflect upon this Christmas.
Las Posadas, which means ‘the inns’ or ‘places of shelter’, is essentially a holiday tradition in Mexico to prepare neighborhoods for the coming of Christmas. For nine days, symbolizing the nine months Mary was pregnant, from December 16th to December 24th, a procession is made each night to different homes in the neighborhood that are preselected to act as posadas. Each of the nine nights, families or children in the neighborhood re-enact the pilgrimage of Mary and Joseph back to Bethlehem at the decree of King Herod. Though details of the procession vary by region, there are generally hymns sung with candles lit in a procession where Los Peregrinos (The Pilgrims, Mary and Joseph) go to different posadas. Upon arrival to an “inn,” Joseph and a group outside begin to sing verses to the “innkeeper” and the group inside the house. Joseph pleas in song for shelter but, in keeping with the Nativity story, he and his family are refused. This process continues until they reach a final home where the “inn” residents sing, “Enter holy pilgrims, receive this humble corner, that while we know it is a poor lodging, it is given as the gift of heart,” welcoming the procession into their home. It is then followed by a novena prayer, a Roman Catholic recitation of prayers and devotion that take place over the course of nine days. This is then followed by a fiesta filled with food, celebration and the breaking of the piñata.
Reflecting on the deeper meaning of this tradition unveils a beautiful spirit to keep in preparation for Christmas. Like the final inn, although the dwellings were humble, they were ready for Christ to come dwell in their home. While we may not be able to organize a Las Posadas procession in our own neighborhoods, we can take the nine days prior to Christmas to examine the condition of our own life and hearts. Are we like the final inn, open and ready to harbor such a radiant gift within ourselves? If we are not, what is stopping us? It is a good time to reflect on our own hospitality towards Christ, as well as towards others who are pregnant with the light of Christ. Instead of solely preparing an outward celebration of the coming of Christ into our world, we can take some time to prepare ourselves inward for the birth of Christ in our own personal lives.
What to Eat During Las Posadas
Christmas is celebrated around the globe but foods such as honey-glazed ham, crab, oven-baked turkey or BBQ – do not sit at the center of every table next to the dinner rolls. Christmas dishes vary from country to country and even from region to region within certain nations.
For instance, those in Mexico have made tamales the staple of Christmas feasting in their celebration of Las Posadas.
Tamales are a corn based dough stuffed with chicken, beef or pork that is marinated in sauce, wrapped in corn husks and steamed until fully cooked. Some tamales are sprinkled with sugar and raisins, giving an alternative to the traditional spicy dish.
On cold winter nights, a hot drink known as “ponche” is served. Andrea Vasquez, a Mexican Catholic, explains, “It has orange, cinnamon, guava, raisins, fresh sugar cane, a tree fruit called tepojote, pomegranate, apples and sugar. Once it has boiled for an hour and a half, it is ready.”
For adults who want to add a little something extra to their drinks, because of its sweetness, ponche mixes well with brandy. –Cristian Vasquez
Chipotle Chili & Monterey Jack Cheese Tamales
Yield: Makes about 20 tamales.
2 medium tomatoes, diced
2 cans of Chipotle chilies in adobo sauce, minced
2 Tbs fresh cilantro, minced
2 Tbs white onion, minced
1/4 Tsp salt
5 fresh Anaheim chili peppers
22 corn husks, soaked in hot water, until flexible
Masa dough for savory tamales — see recipe
2/3 cup cubed Jalapeno Monterey Jack cheese
Combine the first 5 ingredients in medium bowl and mix well.
Cover tightly and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Cut a small slit in each Anaheim chili.
Under a broiler or over an open flame on the stove roast the chilies until their skins turn dark brown.
When chillies are dark brown, put them in a brown paper bag, close tightly and let steam together on their own.
Once they are cool, peel and de-seed the peppers, then cut each chili into 4 pieces.
Tear 2 corn husks into 16 long strips for tying tamales and set aside. (You can also use kitchen string)
To assemble tamales, spread 1 to 2 tablespoons masa dough in the center of each husk; spread with fingers to form a rectangle, leaving sides, top and bottom of husk exposed.
Place 1 piece of chili and 2 cheese cubes over masa.
Spread 1 tablespoon masa dough over filling.
Fold corn husk over filling and masa dough, beginning with right and left sides and ending with the non-pointed husk end.
Tie the tamale wrap together with corn husk strips or kitchen string.
Make sure filling is fully enclosed and strips are securely knotted.
Place tamales not touching each other in steamer over boiling water.
Cover and steam for 1 hour over medium high heat, adding more water if necessary.
4 cups masa harina
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups water
1 to 1 1/2 cups corn oil
Combine masa harina, salt, water and 1 cup oil and knead with you hands.
Add remaining oil as necessary, until a smooth dough is formed.
2 large apples, cored, peeled and sliced thinly
3/4 cup raisins
1 pound guava, cut in quarters
3 (3 to 4-inch) pieces sugarcane, each cut in strips
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
1/2 pound crabapples (in place of tepojotes), peeled and cored
2 cups peeled, diced orange
1 cup sugar
4 (2-inch) pieces Mexican cinnamon
8 cups water
Place all ingredients (except for brandy) in a large pot. Simmer on low heat for about 1 hour. Strain and serve hot with or without a dash of brandy.