Las Posadas, or Making Room

Inez just hanging out with a couple of her closest buds! #nativityscene

A photo posted by izzyortega (@izzyortega) on

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Above: Inez this year; Mary Tobin last year.

Every December our church celebrates Las Posadas, an Advent tradition that migrated from Spain to Mexico and the Southwestern United States.

The church we attend in Nashville, St. George’s, is approximately five thousand times whiter than our old one, Gracia y Paz. So I was not expecting to see a Las Posadas sign-up sheet last year. But since I recognized that Las Posadas was a Mexican thing, I felt like it was our duty, as the representative Mexican family in the parish, to volunteer for hosting Mary and Joseph for a night.

Afterward I panicked momentarily that I’d agreed to throw a huge party. In Mexico, Las Posadas begins nine days before Christmas, and there’s a party at a different house each night. In Tomie de Paola’s book set in Santa Fe, the event is a procession with singers, paper lanterns lining the square, and a procession led by Mary and Joseph (actually: María y José), knocking on doors, sometimes rejected, sometimes ignored, hindered by devils (Boo! Hiss! says the crowd). Another sweet book about this tradition is Nine Days to Christmas: A Story of Mexico. Whatever the specifics of a locality’s Las Posadas—posada means hotel or inn— it ends with Mary and Joseph finally finding a place at the stable in Bethlehem, where Jesus is born.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), I had not signed up to serve tequila and hot chocolate to the entire congregation. St. George’s Las Posadas is more “flat stanley” than fiesta. It’s a tradition where a family hosts Mary and Joseph—essentially yard art statues—for a night, then passes them along on their journey to the next family, and then they’re ultimately delivered to the church to process down the aisle to the creche on Christmas Eve.

We had our turn hosting the Holy Family on an early December weekend. A couple friends came by the house and I had to explain right away why we had outrageously out-of-proportion nativity figures. We literally had to make room for a place for the Holy Family (JC still in Mary’s belly, I had to explain to Mary Tobin). This got me thinking about the idea of making room during Advent. Sister Angie, in De Paola’s The Night of Las Posadas, talks about “Making room in my heart so the Christ Child can be born.”

How did I make room in my life this December? Some ideas and attempts:

  • Make room in my house
  • Make room in my schedule and my plans. In a word: MARGIN.
  • Make room for . . .
    • people,
    • maybe last minute plans,
    • maybe a need to be filled.
    • Maybe silence that I need.
    • Maybe ABC Family’s new classic The 12 Dates of Christmas.
  • Make room for mystery.

I love that last one. Mystery. The incarnation is history’s greatest mystery, worth pondering every single year. In our Sunday school teacher training for the sweet little [wild] 3 to 6 year olds, we were encouraged to get Socratic on them (my words, and I might not grasp the proper usage). Rather than cleanly tying up a story by issuing the final, correct answers to all questions—as if we could!—instead, we wonder together. I wonder how the shepherds felt? I wonder why God chose Mary, chose Bethlehem? Why did he want to tell the shepherds about it? How did the wisemen know to follow the star? This must have been a very special baby.

I want to get comfortable with the discomfort, the mystery, the not knowing. I want to let go of control and loosen expectations. I want not to be embarrassed by the slightly tacky Marys and Josephs sitting in the living room. I want to clean out the mess and make room for something new to be revealed in the old stories.

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Advent, part 2

C.S. Lewis Longing

So in that last post I was not trying to be a downer, but being hopeful. This time of year is not about my personal perfection, it’s about my great need. So when I find myself (or you find yourself) trying to be the Queen of Christmas, that means somewhere along the way, priorities have gone—no, careened wildly!—off track.
That said, I’m more than a little proud of our pinterest-inspired Advent calendar.
advent calendar
Inside some of the bags are the animals and figures from the nativity scene, and random other decorations and goodies are in the rest. We read a children’s Advent book after dinner then let Mary Tobin reach into the bags for the next treasure. By now, she gets the drill and starts going bananas when we take the bag down from the ribbon.

Advent 5
Advent 4  Advent 6

Full disclosure, though. This was not my first Advent calendar attempt. My first attempt was inspired by the following image, which I think is charming and low-maintenance (like myself right?):

Unfortunately, this woman’s socks were a lot more charming than mine. When Israel returned home from a trip, I was excited to show him the results of my creative craft time. He liked the idea of the Advent/Christmas countdown, but when he looked at the strand of socks, he asked “Will people think we’re drying laundry or something?” No, no no! It’s cute! It’s like stockings! For Christmas! “Yeah, I like it. Maybe we can hang it in the bedroom. Or in my closet.”

What a Scrooge, am I right? Fortunately, we had brown lunch bags (inspired by this pinterest image) and some red and white craft paper for numbers. I grumbled as I sat and cut and pasted numbers, but as everything came together I was cooing with delight. It looks, approximately, a million times better than my sock ribbon. Also, cutting out numbers and letters is one of my hidden talents.

P.S. My friend and neighbor Shannon’s advent calendar is one of the coolest I’ve seen.

P.P.S. Don’t go nuts, just choose one thing.

O, Come Emmanuel, or, Advent LOTR Style.

Remember when the Lord of the Rings trilogy was coming out in theaters a few years ago and everyone was so Tolkien crazy? (I was in college at the time, and I even used LOTR as a template for a paper in one of my religious studies classes: “Durkheim to Barth by way of The Lord of the Rings.” I hope the Tolkien mania is refreshed with The Hobbit film.)

I read something today that called to mind this excellent quote, a remnant, programmed into my brain from those LOTR-crazy days of yore:

The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.

Love mingled with grief felt poignant. Then I saw the lyrics to “O Come, Emmanuel” and listened to a beautiful, mournful version of the song. It’s actually pretty depressing: captive Israel is mourning in lonely exile, waiting. Asking God to “disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight.” “Close the path to misery.” “Free thine own from Satan’s tyranny.”

But then: Rejoice!

I know Advent is about waiting for Christmas. But, I forget that waiting is a big deal only when where you are now is not so great. You wouldn’t excitedly anticipate conditions getting worse. And no need to wait and hope if you already have what you need.

Ashley wrote some great posts about Christmas in Denmark. It is a big freaking deal there. (My favorite is the kalenderlys: Christmas countdown candle!). In a land where it’s getting dark at 3 in the afternoon, it makes sense for Christmas to develop into a huge festival. Otherwise, how could one survive winter? (And good thing the church co-opted whatever pagan festival it was before…)

A life of faith is about learning to live with joy and pain at once– love mingled with grief, as Haldir/Tolkien said. Or Isaiah: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” So, I acknowledge the darkness. People are sick, relationships are crappy, and sometimes there are no answers, at least not easy ones. But then: Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o’er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.