In many Latin countries, the Christmas season begins with a diverse array of celebrations, ranging from their unique representations of the Virgin Mary to cleansing rituals. For example, in my native country, Guatemala, we commence the Christmas season with “La quema del Diablo” (Burning of the Devil) on December 7 at 6 pm. Every household in the City of Guatemala participates by burning their trash as a symbolic cleansing of their homes in preparation for the birth of Christ.
Here in the USA, many Latin Lutheran congregations kick off the Christmas season with the celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe, either on December 11 at midnight or on December 12 with an entire day of festivities. This celebration may include a Mariachi Band, Matachines (dancers), a worship service, food, pinatas, and candies.
Following this, on December 16, the first “Posada” (Inn) takes place. Some congregations host one posada, while others commit to all nine posadas from December 16-24. “Posada” refers to an inn or motel, and the nine nights of gathering symbolize the nine months of Mary’s pregnancy. Each night, participants gather at a different house. The visiting families become the “peregrinos” (travelers) accompanying Joseph and Mary on their journey back to Bethlehem. They also ask for a place to stay through a melodic canticle.
The host family becomes the “posaderos” or owners of the inn and responds to the travelers’ petition with another canticle, denying entrance to the inn in the first four verses. In the fifth and sixth verses, they recognize Mary as the mother of Jesus, open the door, and invite everyone in. Inside the house, scripture is read, songs are sung, the Creed, Lord’s Prayer, and the Litany are included, and the ceremony concludes with a blessing.
Afterward, the host family places Mary and Joseph’s statues on their nativity scene or under their Christmas tree, inviting the peregrinos to stay for dinner. Some families include a pinata for the kids, along with goody bags containing traditional peanuts, oranges, and candies. The host family then travels to the next home the following night to request a “posada” for Mary and Joseph, repeating the process until December 24.
On December 24, Mary and Joseph arrive at the church, and the last posada is usually celebrated around 6 pm or 7 pm. Everyone then returns home to be with their families, staying up until midnight. When the clock strikes 12:00 am on December 25, people hug, kiss, and wish each other Merry Christmas before sharing a meal, typically tamales, and opening presents. It’s not uncommon to go to bed at 5 am or 7 am on December 25, even though tradition calls for a family lunch at 12 pm on Christmas Day.
In Latin America, December 28th, the Day of the Innocents, is also our April’s Fool’s Day, where all kinds of jokes are played on each other. New Year’s celebrations can either be at home or at a local establishment. Celebrants wait until midnight to welcome the New Year with hugs and
best wishes. Some eat 12 grapes, while others wear red or yellow underwear or go in and out of the front door several times, wishing for a year full of travel.
On January 6th, we celebrate the arrival of the Three Kings (in Mexico, children receive presents on this day). We share “la rosca de reyes” (kings bread), a rounded bread with stripes of jelly on top and a little plastic baby inside (representing baby Jesus). Tradition dictates that whoever finds the baby is responsible for bringing tamales on February 2nd for Candlemas celebration.
During the Epiphany worship service, the baby Jesus is dressed by the “madrinas.” Jesus is then seated in a small chair, a lullaby is sung, and everyone comes forward to kiss the baby Jesus. White candles are given to the worshippers, representing Christ, which can be burned at home during times of trial.
On February 2nd, the baby Jesus is taken from the church to the house of the Madrina, who will care for him for the entire year until the next Christmas. Madrinas are usually in charge of dressing up Baby Jesus and keeping him at home for three years in a row until a new madrina is chosen for another three years. On this day, the Nativity scene is also put away, marking the end of the Christmas Season.