Counting tonight, there will be three more posadas in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, this year, December 22, 23 and 24. Christmas Eve is La Ultima Posada, the last posada, when Mary and Joseph settle into the Bethlehem manger and give birth to baby Jesus.
The posadas leading up to this event each year recreate this journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem in what was then known as Judea, land of the Jews, populated by people who called themselves Israelites. Posada means inn or resting place in Spanish, the search for lodging by Mary and Joseph.
Well, I’m not a biblical scholar so if you want to know more about history and identity during this period, there are volumes to consult and study.
Here in Teotitlan del Valle, the tradition is to pass through the entire village each night for nine days to honor Mary and Joseph, and the coming birth of Jesus.
Hosts of the posada designate this honor to carry sedan chair that supports the carved wood figures to close family members or friends. Other special designees carry handmade beeswax candles decorated with wax flowers at the front of the line.
There are always two bands, one far ahead and one behind the sedan chair. They form a musical call and response, one somber, one energetic. Fireworks, firecrackers, candles and copal incense also help guide the way and announce the posada’s progress.
The posada goes through each neighborhood and as it does, villagers fall in behind until there is a long stream of people — young and old — tagging along. The older women, hair in braids, heads covered with ikat woven shawls, are often the most dedicated. Grandmothers hold babes in arms, toddlers hold the hands of an older brother or sister. Cultural education begins early.
Finally, the procession comes to the home of the next night’s posada host. There, the family will rest overnight and through the next day, then continue their journey until December 24.
Each host provides a huge, on-going meal and beverages, and guarantees that all the costs will be covered. Invited guests will bring a case of beer and/or mezcal as a tribute. Food and drink is prepared for hundreds.
As I walked the dirt and cobblestone streets along with my Zapotec neighbors, I thought about how connected these people are with each other and their traditions. It is winter solstice. Days will lengthen. The religious and cultural cycle will move into Easter by mid-February. There are always rituals one can depend on here to keep community intact.
Do you want to visit and participate? Stay at Casa Elena B&B or at Las Granadas B&B. Ask your hosts to tell you where the posada is located. They will point the way and my bet is you will be welcome to join. Posadas start about 7 p.m. and end a couple of hours later.
Now, a word about night photography. I didn’t carry a tripod for my new camera. There was constant people movement so a tripod would have been useless. In the house of the posada, the fluorescent light put a yellow glare out into the environment. The shadows were deep. As we moved out onto the narrow, dark, dirt paved street there was little light and I had to increase ISO to 10,000. There in the distance were the strobes of local video cameramen. FYI: I rarely use flash.
This is all to say that my night photos were not very successful. But, I’m publishing them anyway so you get the gist of what this celebration feels like. It’s better to be here yourself to feel the experience.