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!

Secretos de Belleza [Beauty Secrets]

Gracia y Paz mujeres

Awhile back, the ladies of Gracia y Paz got together to eat, chat, and have some serious talk about the beauty that comes from within.

It’s at these gatherings where my Spanish comprehension is truly tested, as we sit around a table discussing something, then heads turn to me and I’m expected to contribute. I hope that I’ve been keeping up correctly and that my comment is relevant, and that the lady next to me didn’t just say the exact same thing. (In case you’re wondering, I listen to them speaking Spanish, then make my comments in English. Just to change things up and keep everyone on their toes.)

After covering the inner beauty stuff, we took turns spilling our personal [outward] beauty secrets. We chatted about makeup routines; working out (use something like this); how to curl your eyelashes using a spoon; and eliminating blackheads using a homemade face scrub (honey, brown sugar, a couple drops of lemon). In the “I’d never thought of that as a beauty secret” department, someone who shall remain nameless brought her OB-GYN’s business cards for all of us.

My secrets: drink a lot of water, try to get a lot of sleep. I also brought a bunch of Crest White Strips to pass around. That beauty secret doesn’t belong to me, but to someone else in the Ortega household. (And, no, Mary Tobin currently has six teeth and does not use Crest White Strips.)

I just love hearing tips, for beauty or otherwise. I think the human mind is more open to new information if it comes in the form of a tip. They’re yummy little nuggets that promise big results from little effort. Does this love of tips apply to all people, just women, just me, or just anyone who reads Oprah Magazine?

Alright, spill your guts! What are your beauty secrets? (And, thank you for any leads on good OB-GYNs!)

P.S. After I added the pictures above, I have to say: are these women not some of the most beautiful around? Their faces are RADIANT. It’s a privilege to hear their beauty tips, and to call them hermanas. This is not a serious post, but I was on the verge of tears!

P.P.S. For the Gracia y Paz women’s gathering this month, I agreed to come up with a Valentine’s Day-related activity. Any suggestions? I’m scouring pinterest . . .