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In Mexico and other parts of Latin America, Christmas celebrations begin not on December 25, but nine days earlier, with Las Posadas—a jubilant reenactment of Mary and Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
In the nativity story, Mary and Joseph are turned away at several inns, or posadas, in the days leading up to the birth of Jesus. That is the inspiration behind Las Posadas, a centuries-old tradition that involves a procession representing the Holy Family as they are turned away at various homes or businesses until they finally find shelter at a designated location. These exuberant celebrations typically feature elaborate costumes, live performances of Christmas songs, or villancicos, sweet snacks and a piñata for the little ones.
The tradition of Las Posadas originated in Spain and was introduced in the Americas by colonizers. Today, communities in the U.S. continue Las Posadas with festivities that range from multi-day affairs to smaller events that last just a few hours. And while these are above all religious celebrations, visitors are welcome to come experience the tradition for themselves.
Olvera Street, Los Angeles
Since the 1930s, Los Angeles’ Olvera Street has gone all out for Las Posadas, with nine nights of festivities that kick off on December 16. Each night begins with the part that will likely excite the kids the most: a piñata party. String musicians serenade the crowd during the main event, the procession, which starts and ends at Avila Adobe, the city’s oldest residence. Statues of Mary and Joseph are carried through the streets for the first eight nights and are replaced by live performers on Christmas Eve. The night ends with champurrado, sometimes called Mexican hot chocolate, and pan dulce, or sweet bread. Stick around for the performance of Pastorela, a Christmas comedy.
Every year, San Antonio’s historic San Fernando Cathedral hosts La Gran Posada. This one-night celebration of the nativity story begins with a prayer service at Milam Park and continues with stops at various landmarks near the city’s famous River Walk, including the Market Square Museum, Spanish Governor’s Palace, and the San Antonio City Hall. The cavalcade is turned away until finally finding shelter at the cathedral, where prayer and singing with a mariachi choir await. The piñata party comes at the end, with kids scrambling for candy on the plaza outside the 18th-century cathedral.
If you find yourself in the Denver area for the holidays, bundle up on Christmas Eve and head to the Tesoro Cultural Center, located in a replica adobe fort less than 30 minutes southwest of the city. Here you’ll find a condensed version of Las Posadas that includes a live nativity, holiday music and, of course, a piñata. This free event is held outdoors, but there’s plenty of complimentary hot apple cider, Mexican hot chocolate, and biscochitos (Mexican cookies) to keep you warm.
St. Charles, MO
Since the 1970s, the first Saturday evening in December on St. Charles’ historic Main Street has been devoted to Las Posadas. A candlelit procession begins at the intersection of Boone’s Lick and South Main and runs for 10 blocks until reaching Frontier Park, where the celebration continues with a riverfront nativity, Christmas caroling and the lighting of a Yule Log.
St. Augustine, FL
As the oldest Spanish settlement in North America, St. Augustine is a year-round tourist destination. Here you can experience Las Posadas at Mission Nombre de Dios. Held on two separate nights at the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche, the traditional procession is followed by a live nativity scene, eucharistic adoration, and refreshments in the form of cookies and hot cocoa. You will need to register in advance to participate in the procession, but not for the rest of the events.
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