Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico celebrates the winter holiday with a posada on nine nights before Christmas Day, starting on December 15. Starting yesterday afternoon and going into the night, I participated with a small group of visitors from the USA, Canada and Ireland interested in joining me to explore the history, culture and traditions of this Zapotec-Catholic practice, rooted in Spanish-European practice.
Posada means inn or we might know it better as a roadside tavern where weary travelers take rest for the night. The story of Mary and Joseph as they make their way from Nazareth to Jerusalem to pay the Roman tax is well-known. They find a stable for animals to sleep in on December 24 in Bethlehem when the inn is full. This is where Jesus is born.
Here in Teotitlan del Valle it is a little more complex, a mix of spiritual seriousness and long-held ceremony.
I went in advance to ask permission of two host families that sponsored the posada on December 22 — the home where Mary and Joseph were brought on the night of December 21 and the home where they would be carried to on the night of December 22.
Only family members are usually invited inside the home, although all of us in the village can take part in the candlelight walk when the religious figures are carried from one house to the next.
There is a posada today and the last one is tomorrow, December 24. The host family for the night of December 24 will go with the Church Committee to the December 23 host and ask for blessings. A string of fragrant jasmine flowers is placed on the litter that carries Mary and Joseph to their next resting place by the head of the village religious committee.
This is also symbolic of a smooth transition, expressing care and trust. There is ritual around community trust here that is essential to village survival and well-being. It is not written by codified by behavior over thousands of years.
You might think the Posada is a purely Catholic tradition inherited from Spaniards, but it incorporates the Zapotec practice of Guelaguetza. This is NOT the July folkloric dance so popular in Oaxaca. It is a way of community and family support to ensure survival and to meet needs and obligations.
The Posada is also adapting to contemporary lifestyles and mass communications. Blinking reindeer dance from rooftops here and blue icicles drip from roof lines. Frosty the snowman has a red nose that glows. Imagines of snowflakes are projected on adobe walls. The United States of America has infiltrated traditional culture.
We are seamless, we are universal, we are adapting. One Posada host family has a daughter living in Switzerland with her Swiss husband and two children. Another Posada host family lives in Moorpark, California, but maintains strong cultural ties to Teotitlan del Valle, where university educated children return regularly to visit grandparents and maintain their heritage.
Our group talked with Pedro Montaño about how Christmas has changed in Teotitlan, comparing current practices and the more simple approach of a generation ago, when the crèche assembled with homemade wood figures, forest grasses and moss from the Sierra Juarez mountains nearby.
Then, piñatas were filled with fruit and candles were carried to light the path since there was no electricity.
There is no judgment here. Only observation. There is plenty we can observe about traditional practices around the world and how they have changed as people have more disposable income and television teaches and creates aspirations.
I always like to ask: What is authenticity? To change and adapt is part of the human experience. To expect that people keep their “authentic” practices is, IMHO, a colonial approach to saying, it’s okay for us to change but let’s keep them the way they are because it’s far more interesting for us.
Happy Holidays. I hope you come to Teotitlan del Valle this year to experience this remarkable celebration for yourself. The posada tonight will start aound 6 p.m. at the corner of Pino Suarez and Zaragoza near the new chapel.
Feliz Fiestas and Happy Holidays from Oaxaca, Mexico
It’s a warm, sunny day here in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico. Temps are in the mid-70’s Fahrenheit and there’s a breeze. It will get down to 52 degrees tonight. A perfect day to welcome Baby Jesus to the world here in the southern part of North America.
Resting on a satin pillow is Baby Jesus, taken from his church altar to the Last Posada
There’s a band playing at the December 23-24 posada house and I can hear it across the village. At unpredictable moments, a firecracker will go skyward to boom in a blast that sounds like one shot has been fired. Tonight is La Ultima Posada, the last posada for 2017.
Procession of villagers with candles, a church official with copal incense burner
This morning I went to the market early, at 8:30 a.m. Ojala! It was a miracle, since I usually never get out of the house much before 10:00 a.m. Parking was scarce and I could hear a band on the street between the market and the church. It called to me. I hurried. Whenever a band plays here, you know there is something going on.
The band behind the moving altar plays energetic Sousa-style music
Baby Jesus had just been taken from his resting place in the church, an antique carved and gilded wooden figure. He was on a pillow held by a young woman who walked under a portable tent held upright by four stanchions and strong men to hold the posts.
The procession formed to pass through the major streets of Teotitlan del Valle on the way to place Baby Jesus in his birthplace at La Ultima Posada.
Delegation playing solemn music out front, led by wood carved Zapotec flute
The street was perfumed by copal incense, giving off smoke and a sweet aroma of burning sap, so essential to ancient Zapotec ceremonial tradition.
As the procession descended down Avenida Constitucion from the Zocalo along a steep cobblestone incline, I said to myself that I wish I had worn sturdier shoes. Nevertheless, I was able to keep up to get these photos to share with you.
Important family members of the posada host process with candles
Then, I went back uphill to the market to do my holiday food shopping. Tonight, I’m invited to the home of Hugo and Malena. I’m holding weekly English conversation meetings with their teenage son and daughter. They asked me to join them for Christmas Eve dinner, which usually doesn’t start here until around midnight. Not sure I can stay up that late. It’s pretty quiet around here on Christmas Day.
Back up the hill to the market and church zocalo
Enjoy this time of peace, reflection, calm and tranquility. The winter solstice brings us darkness, where we want to hover close with family and friends, take stock of our year and think about longer, warmer days ahead. I think of this as a metaphor for all the possibilities that life can bring us.
Blessings to all.
Norma Schafer, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico, December 24, 2017
From the village market, a view of the church steeples
Women buy field flowers for their aroma, akin to the past
I take home a bundle of sunflowers in the spirit of joy
Posted in Cultural Commentary, Teotitlan del Valle, Travel & Tourism
Tagged Mexico, Oaxaca, posada, Teotitlan del Valle