Members of St. William Parish in Philadelphia celebrate Las Posadas, a Latino tradition which commemorates Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem through processions and prayers at participants’ homes, Dec. 22. (Photo by Luis Marrero)

With Christmas just hours away, many folks may find themselves scrambling to get ready for the holiday – but dozens of area Latino Catholics are well-prepared, thanks to the spiritual “dress rehearsals” they’ve had over the past nine days.

The tradition of Las Posadas – Spanish for “the inns” — reenacts the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem over nine evenings from Dec. 16 to 24. Each night, participants process to a designated host’s house, led by two individuals dressed as Mary and Joseph, for whom they request lodging. The groups then recite the rosary, reflect on Scripture and sing Christmas carols over refreshments.

The custom, which originated in Spain, took root in Mexico and spread throughout Central and South America. Today, immigrants from a number of Spanish-speaking nations keep the posada tradition vibrant in parishes and homes throughout the Archdiocese.

In fact, many gatherings are standing room only.

“The other night, we literally had a hundred people in the house, wall to wall,” said Sister of St. Joseph Linda Lukiewski, director of Hispanic ministry at St. Joan of Arc, a mission site of Holy Innocents Parish in Philadelphia. “Kids were jumping around, ladies were cooking in the kitchen, and it was jammed. But that’s what it’s all about.”

Participants from St. Joan of Arc Church (part of Holy Innocents Parish) in Philadelphia gather to celebrate Las Posadas, a traditional Latino commemoration of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. (Photo by Sr. Linda Lukiewski, S.S.J.)

The posadas help to “preserve the real meaning of Christmas,” said Sister Linda – something that gets lost in an “out of whack” consumer culture.

“Theologically, Christmas is about God coming and living among us,” she said. “And we celebrate that in the posadas, which create a sense of community where we can share and support each other in our faith.”

Luis Marrero of St. William Parish in Philadelphia agreed, noting that the posadas are an important way to keep the holiday from simply becoming a season of “shopping for gifts.”

With homemade costumes and food, the gatherings also brighten what can be “a hard month for a lot of people” who can’t afford a lavish holiday celebration, said Sister Linda.

“They’re very simple, and very lovely,” she said.

Marrero, one of the coordinators of the St. William Parish youth group, wants to ensure that younger Latinos preserve the posadas, even as they become more assimilated into American culture.

“I think it’s important to continue for Latino youth for the same reason that it’s important in general,” he said. “They often forget the true meaning of Christmas, and where the joy actually comes from. So by showing them that, we’re planting in them the mustard seed of the Nativity.”

A home altar decorated for Las Posadas, a traditional Latino commemoration of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem, Dec. 22, 2019. (Photo by Sister Linda Lukiewski, S.S.J.)