The Christmas season always involves the practice of family traditions such as setting up the nativity scene, who places the angel on top of the Christmas tree and the menu of the delicious meal shared with family members. Though each family has its own practices and traditions, there are very old traditions embedded in cultures that celebrate the birth of Christ. These expressions of popular piety writes Pope Francis, “enable us to see how the faith, once received, becomes embodied in a culture and is constantly passed on” (Evangelii Gaudium, 123).
One tradition that expresses the content of the faith more by way of symbols than by discursive reasoning are the posadas in Mexico. Pope Benedict, quoted by Francis, said that the popular piety of Latin America is “a precious treasure in the church, in which we see the soul of the Latin American peoples” (Evangelii Gaudium , 123). In the annual celebration of the posadas the faith is expressed beautifully and passed on to the next generation; it is evangelization at its best.
Every day from December 16th until Christmas Eve, the faithful gather with their neighbors, their parishioners or family members to prepare for Christmas by remembering and reliving the moments Mary and Joseph experienced before the birth of Christ. Mary and Joseph walk in the neighborhood from house to house asking for a place to stay and they are denied a place at the inn. A traditional song is sung at each door where Joseph asks for a room. In one verse Joseph implores, “please don’t be inhumane, show us charity and the God of heaven will reward you,” but those inside the house reply, “leave now and do not bother us, or else I will get mad and hit you with a stick.”
Expressions of popular piety such as the posadas are oftentimes looked down upon in modern times. Yet Pope Francis reminds us that these are an “active evangelizing power which we must not underestimate: to do so would be to fail to recognize the work of the Holy Spirit. Instead, we are called to promote and strengthen it” (Evangelii Gaudium , 126). The posadas along with many other expressions of popular piety allow the faithful to journey deep into the faith by making real today the truths of the Gospel. Walking with Mary and Joseph in a cold night from door to door and being rejected allows for a more profound experience of the Christmas story than just reading the second chapter of the Gospel of Saint Luke or hearing a meditation. Popular piety speaks to the heart and allows for the profound evangelization of the soul. The experience of the posadas may not teach the faithful to explain the hypostatic union, but it will certainly allow them to experience the lowliness and poverty of God made man.
Picture is mine, all rights reserved. Saint Francis at the Manger, Greccio, 2018.