A December Celebration — Las Posadas
When we plan for multicultural December holidays, we think about Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. But there are other December holidays. In Mexico, a pre-Christmas celebration, Las Posadas, is celebrated December 16–24.
A few years ago I celebrated Las Posadas with my 5th grade class. We adapted elements of this cultural tradition for a school setting. Read on to find out more about Las Posadas and how we celebrated.
Las Posadas means "the inns or shelters." It’s a reenactment of Mary and Joseph’s search for an inn where Jesus could be born. Las Posadas includes decorations, a nativity set, songs, a parade, and a party with snacks and a piñata!
AHEAD OF TIME
Decorate Your Classroom
We made papel picado, cut tissue paper decorations, and poinsettias, a plant native to Mexico, to decorate our classroom. To make papel picado, you'll need colored tissue paper, scissors, string, and glue or a stapler. Poinsettias, la flor de Nochebuena, are special because of their star-shaped flowers. We used construction paper to make red poinsettias.
Make a Nacimiento
El nacimiento, literally "the birth," is a nativity set. In a traditional Mexican celebration, children and adults dress up in Christmas pageant costumes as Mary, Joseph, shepherds, and angels. Sometimes there’s even a live burro. My class made a small, simple nativity set out of baker's clay. You could make a nacimiento of clothespins or clay, or use a printable. We arranged our nacimiento on a cafeteria tray with evergreen branches. Two students were picked to carry the tray.
There’s traditional music, villancicos, for Las Posadas. To keep it simple and still observe the spirit of Las Posadas, we practiced Christmas carols and made our own Christmas carol booklets.
We selected our last school day before winter vacation for Las Posadas and told other classes we would stop by.
Parade Around the School
Students carrying the nacimiento preceded the singers. We circulated to all classrooms and the school office. At each door students knocked and when it was opened, sang carols. My students then asked, “Is there room for us here?” At every door they were met with a negative response, “No, we don’t have any room for you here.”
Finally we ended up back at our classroom. When we knocked, three moms opened the door. Students sang their carols and asked, “Is there room in the inn for us?” and the adults answered, “Yes!” We had finally found room at an inn and the location of our party.
Snacks and Drinks for Las Posadas
Buñuelos, or fried dough, is part of the tradition (you could also buy donut holes). Tamales are traditional, but time consuming. Here's a recipe for bean and cheese tamales. Or make chicken and cheese enchiladas, which are easier. Mexican hot chocolate is also traditional. Invite parents to help prepare and serve snacks and drinks.
With planning and rules, students can break a piñata in a way that’s both safe and fun for all. We used the gym and hung our piñata from a basketball hoop. We used old scarves for blindfolds and a broom handle for a stick. Students lined up by height. The smallest students had the first turns, and students were limited to three swings, so everyone got a turn.
Historical Background of Las Posadas
After Spain conquered and colonized Mexico, Roman Catholic priests and monks noticed that Christmas coincided with the birth of the powerful Aztec god Huitzilopochtli. Huitzilopochtli was the god of war and the sun, and patron of Tenochtitlan (present-day Mexico City). This connection helped convert the Native peoples to Christianity. A Native American celebration became Las Posadas when the Jesus story was combined with the story of Huitzilopochtli’s birth.
In Mexican villages, community members dress as Nativity characters and participate in pageants and plays. They process around town from house to house looking for an inn in which to stay. The final home admits the wanderers and is the location of the party.
Write and share how you celebrate December holidays. Feliz Navidad!