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Story

By Victor Cancino, SJ

To the outside world, we were a band of pirates walking back-and-forth on the corner house of where I grew up. We looked like buccaneers, but we were actually playing the role of shepherd on pilgrimage with the Holy Family looking for posada, hospitality, so that Mary could have a place to give birth to her son, the prince of peace.

Posadas take place in Mexico and in thousands of Spanish-speaking communities throughout the United States of America during Advent. You will find them anywhere you find a Mexican Catholic community, present in places like San Gabriel, California, to the far east in Boston. These pageants are like a Nativity play but with more movement, chaos, laughter and sheer craziness in the form of joy. The main idea is to sing a song in antiphonal form where the outside group, composed of shepherds, Joseph and Mary, sing some verses requesting a place to spend the night in their tiredness. Meanwhile, the inside group is warm and cozy in their house, and they sing verses telling the group in the cold to get lost, there is no room in the inn.

In asking for posada the first group sings, We’re weary from traveling from Nazareth. I am a carpenter by the name of Joseph. Followed by the inside choir that sings, I don’t care who you are, let me sleep. I already told you we’re not going to open. The longer the procession goes, the more comical and dramatic the back-and-forth verses become. This all leads up to a final household stop that offers everyone posada. Then the merriment continues with a piñata to smack around, a malty form of hot chocolate called champurrado is served, and a whole heap of sweet bread called pan dulce is consumed.

On that particular night, where my family, cousins and friends all dressed up looking more like pirates than shepherds, I remember the ecstasy that overcame my mother and cousin as they sang. Those two women formed the inside choir, taking on the role of the bad guys. Mom was having so much fun singing out of tune and telling everyone to get lost that by the third set of verses she peed in her pants due to uncontrollable laughter. It was sheer Advent joy as we came closer to the Christmas mystery.

Towards the end of the song the pilgrims finally understand, Are you Joseph? Your wife is Mary? Enter, pilgrims; I did not recognize you. With the antiphonal response, May God repay, kind people, your charity, and thus heaven heap happiness upon you. What a thought, that heaven might heap happiness upon you. I hope this were true for every person at least once in their lifetime to experience. A joy that comes from the gut as a result of one’s faith experience. Perhaps this is a learned and cultivated practice that needs attention and willingness to enter.

What strikes me now, as time passes further away from those childhood memories, is how pageantry can serve as a powerful force for embodied memory and catechesis. I heard somewhere that learning when done in the form of play is quickly absorbed by our bodies more so than when attempted without such enjoyment. Several days ago, in the daily readings for Mass, the Psalm read, “He shows sinners the way, he guides the humble to justice, he teaches the humble his way” (Ps 25:8-9). It becomes the task of each generation to show, to guide and to teach the next one how our faith must be lived and experienced. The posadas provide a key to generational catechesis through pageantry: faith is act of hospitality and sheer joy. If your faith and learning don’t make you enjoy life so much that you might pee in your pants one day, you might be doing it the wrong way.

Fr. Victor Cancino, SJ, lives on the Flathead Indian Reservation in western Montana and is the pastor in residence for St. Ignatius Mission. He studied Sacred Scripture at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome