For eight days, Joseph and Mary, who was carrying a child, traveled and sought lodging. They were refused by all homes and innkeepers for eight days, but on the ninth were welcomed by one home to stay. There in Bethlehem, Mary bore Jesus of Nazareth. This journey is celebrated every year in the rituals of Posadas Navideñas.
Posadas Navideñas or Las Posadas, which means “Christmas Inns” or “The Inns,” is celebrated throughout Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, and by Hispanics in the United States. It is observed with a reenactment of Mary’s travels, with a procession to different homes, led by a candle bearer and two in the roles of Mary and Joseph. The procession stops at preselected houses where Mary and Joseph ask for lodging. They are refused and those in each home sing one of a series of songs for the ceremony. They arrive at the last house where they are accepted and the ceremony is closed with a final song.
Before and after the reenactment many homes hold parties. The children have seven-pointed piñatas, each point representing one of the seven deadly sins and the stick representing the virtue of faith defeating evil. The beating of the piñata is further described as overcoming personal sin. The piñatas’ contents represent God’s grace that is made available through the birth of Jesus.
The celebrations start on December 16th and continue every night until the 24th. Those nine nights represent the days of travel to find lodging and, symbolically, the nine months Mary spent carrying her child.
In the Aztec tradition the mother of the Aztec gods, Tonantzin, and the birth of the Sun God, Huitzilopochtli, were celebrated with the winter solstice. When Spain introduced the Aztecs in Mexico to Posadas Navideñas the missionaries aligned the birth of Jesus to that local tradition to hasten the adoption of Catholicism in the region.
In other parts of the world, there are similar celebrations: In the Philippines, the reenactment is called Panunuluyan, Nicaragua celebrates for only one day, and in several regions of the United States, Las Posadas celebrations take place that include carols along with reenactments.