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What is Las Posadas?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 23, 2024
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Las Posadas is a traditional Mexican festival which takes place from 16 December to 24 December. It commemorates the search for shelter by Mary and Joseph with a series of parties around the neighborhood. In some parts of Mexico, it is a major holiday, with the whole community taking part. Mexican immigrants in other parts of the world may also celebrate Las Posadas, if the immigrant community is large enough, and participation isn't restricted to Mexicans; other people in the community are certainly welcome to participate.

In Spanish, Las Posadas means “The Inns,” and during this festival, people form a procession which symbolically visits homes asking for shelter. People in the procession dress up, sing songs, and sometimes bring a burro or donkey along to represent the donkey which brought Mary into Jerusalem. One home in particular is designated as the “inn” each night, and when the procession reaches that home, the hosts welcome them in for a Posadas party which includes music, dancing, food, and prayer.

The choice of a different home to host the party on each night of this festival ensures that everyone in a neighborhood can participate without overtaxing any given host. In some regions, the procession ceremonially asks for shelter at two other homes before reaching the location of the designated party for the evening, in a reminder of the difficulty that Mary and Joseph had when they tried to seek shelter before the birth of Christ. Typically, the location of the party is decorated with a large nativity scene.

At the party, guests are served an assortment of traditional Mexican holiday treats, and children play with a piñata which is traditionally made in the shape of a star. On the last night of Las Posadas, the party ends with a trip to church for the midnight Nativity mass. Typically several neighborhoods in a town will have Posadas parties going on, and these parties may meet up as they wend their way through the streets to church.

Mexico is a very religious country, and while Las Posadas is a great excuse for socialization and parties, it is also a deeply religious event. Many communities may join together in prayer at the nativity scene before the party begins, for example, and traditional Posadas songs are filled with religious symbolism. The holiday also celebrates and encourages kindness, generosity, and love among the members of a community.

CulturalWorld.org is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a CulturalWorld.org researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon357612 — On Dec 05, 2013

This is informational. I will show to this site to my kids.

By accordion — On Dec 19, 2010

@sapphire12, I agree with you. While it might be based at last in part on a mistake in the teachings of the Bible, the Las Posadas Navidad seems like a great holiday and a valuable reminder in the season of the importance of sharing, giving, and welcoming the stranger, which after all is another teaching of Jesus.

By sapphire12 — On Dec 18, 2010

@accordion, I have heard some of this before, and while it is likely to be at least partly true, it is not the only such misinterpretation of the text. This is, after all, a story which also gives great ambiguity about Mary's family, her cousin Elizabeth, and even John the Baptist's origins. However, as in anything, traditions will build out of mistakes as well as truths.

By accordion — On Dec 17, 2010

While Las Posadas sounds like a lovely celebration, it is one which might stem from a vastly misinterpreted bible translation.

In the original text of the bible, the word translated as "inn" by some common translations of the bible might also be used simply to mean "guest room"; in other words, a room in a family's house. According to the story, Joseph and Mary were in the town of Joseph's family; the likelihood of them not staying with that family was low, and so the inn translation is an error that went uncorrected for many centuries. The idea that there was not room for them also relates back to the story, which states that they were there to participate in the census, which would have also required many others in Joseph's family to also return to Bethlehem.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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