Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass
The posada, a custom depicting Joseph and Mary’s search for lodging on the eve of her confinement, is re-enacted from December 16 to Christmas Eve throughout Latin America and in our own Southwest. Religious and secular traditions, never far apart in the lives of most Mexican villages, are at Christmas indefinably joined.
Details of las posadas may vary from region to region, but certain essentials remain wherever the custom is observed. Children, always an important part of the festivities, join with adults to form a torch and lantern procession and the streets become as crowded and bustling as ancient Bethlehem’s at census time. Joseph leads a donkey, bearing a young girl dressed as The Virgin, or perhaps the children carry a litter of pine boughs which holds decorated clay figures of the Holy Family.
As the procession of villagers winds through the streets singing litanies, they knock at various doors along the route. Each time they are turned away with the cruel words, “There is no room,” until the procession arrives at the appointed home or church. Then, the doors are flung wide in the open spirit of Christmas and the celebration, with Mary as its central figure, beings. Guests kneel before el nacimiento (or, crèche), candles are lit, and the Christmas story is retold in song, dance, music and mime and The Christ Child is welcomed to earth. The unvarying finale of the celebration is the introduction of the piñata, a colorful, symbolically decorated figure of papier maché. The piñata is suspended above the heads of the children. Blindfolded and armed with long poles, youngsters vie for the honor of breaking the piñata and showering the contents of sweets and tiny gifts among all assembled.
I was born in a California town founded by the Spanish, raised on a cattle ranch that had been a Mexican land grant, and have absorbed and observed Mexican folk music all my life. As a musician, I have toured Mexico six times and always enjoyed listening to the folk music of the various regions. The ethnic music reflects those qualities I most admire in people… dignity in moments of tragedy, infectious high spirits in moments of joy, and an unshakeable religious faith made evident in a strong sense of one’s own worth and a deep respect for the shared values of one’s own group family, church, village. These qualities, I think, are universal to people with a strong communal sense an increasingly rare attribute in urban culture. It is this sense of sharing in an event which I have tried to capture in the simple retelling of the Christmas story.