Mexico’s celebration of Christmas begins in earnest on Tuesday, December 16, when the the first traditional posada takes to the streets in towns and villages across the country.
While the lights and carols have been playing in stores and malls for weeks, it is this series of charming daily processions that puts most Mexicans into a holiday mood. The Spanish word for inn is posada. In its purest and most traditional form, a posada is a walking reenactment of Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem and their search for a place in an inn.
This Christmas tradition is uniquely, genuinely and exclusively Mexican, apparently instituted soon after the arrival of the Spanish. It is said that San Ignacio de Loyola may have created the custom in order to teach the story of the birth of Jesus to the former Aztecs who had previously marked winter solstice celebrations honoring the diminishing old sun, and the virgin birth of the Aztec sun god, Huitzilopchtli with nine daily processions.
Nearly 500 years later, children in the villages around Lake Chapala still set out on symbolic pilgrimages on each of the nine evenings before Christmas. Each Lakeside village has a treasured posada tradition slightly different than others.
In Ajijic the peregrinos (pilgrims) are led by an angel who guides Joseph on his search for a room in an inn. Joseph leads a burro carrying a small girl in blue and white robes demurely playing her role as Mary.