Monday, December 11, 2006

Day 22: Wonderful "Posadas" Goofs

In Mexico we traditionally celebrate a series of parties called the Posadas”. They are held from December the 16th to December 24th, that is, the number of days it took Mary and Joseph to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, prior to Jesus birth, being the one held on Christmas Eve the last one, when they finally found shelter in the “Pesebre” (“The Barn” or “The Cave”).

The most orthodox “Posada” includes certain rites directly related to the religious origin of the gathering. First, you have to walk around the block in a “peregrinación” (pilgrimage), carrying effigies of the “Santos Peregrinos” (the Holy Pilgrims, i.e., Mary, who is usually depicted riding a donkey, and Joseph, walking by her side), reciting a litany, or prayer, and holding candles. When you finally arrive at the host’s door, all people outside have to “pedir posada”, that is, to ask the “inn keeper” for shelter for the night, with a traditional chant. Although it has been shortened through the years, the “inn keeper” has to deny entrance to the pilgrims at least twice before “recognizing” Mary and Joseph and let them in with joy.

And here’s where the funny part begins, since it’s very common for people to be reading with their chant book in one hand and their candle in the other... right below some girl’s fluffy pony tail. So, you can imagine the amount of haircuts needed during the season.

On the other hand, there are the wonderful, fun and lovely “piñatas”. By now you probably know that a piñata is a sculpture made of macce paper in any form you like which is hung from a rope so people can beat it. The most common ones in Mexico have a base of “tepalcate”, that is, a clay jar, and the form of a star, representing the devil. The parable is that the devil (the piñata) is broken by faith (the cane or log used to break the piñata) and the blessings (the candy and fruit the piñata is filled with) will fall upon the devote ones (the participants).

Taking into account that the person who intends to break the piñata is blindfolded by a “paliacate” (a big, colorful handkerchief), it would only be a matter of common sense to keep yourself as far away as possible from the wielder, wouldn’t it? Well, truth is, it is not.

Every year, people get either hit by the cane straight in the head in this wonderful baseball fashion, by the piñata itself, flying off its string after a good hit or candy bursting unexpectedly out of the piñata during a particularly violent swing of the rope. And it doesn’t end there. When the candy spills out of the piñata, both children and grown ups take the dive of their lives in order to gain as much candy, toys and fruit as possible, most of the times landing one on top of the other. (ouch!)

But don’t start panicking yet. Amazingly, very few serious accidents occur, since most of the time parents and relatives keep a close eye on their children, preventing them from suffering an accident. In my life-long experience, the worst I’ve seen was a bump in the forehead (when the piñata’s belly suddenly ripped off and the falling candy got me straight in the face).

So, if there’s any chance you may come to Mexico, be sure you get invited to a “Posada”, or at least to a “Pre-Posada” (a posada held before Dec. 16th), not only for the folklore, but for all the fun you can have at it.

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