By Monica Caldari
A pilgrimage is defined in dictionary.com as “a journey, especially a long one, made to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion.” The holiday season for many is a pilgrimage of sorts: People visit family in faraway locations, travel extensively to gather at a special church, mosque, or temple, and celebrate the sanctity of hearth and home with their beloveds.
Since the beginning of time, ancient people across the world also journeyed to mystical locations to honor the sun. Solstices and equinoxes were celebrated with feasts and festivities.
With the arrival of Christianity, some celebrations melded with stories of Christ’s birth in place of, and sometimes alongside, the rebirth of the sun. Many of Christianity’s nationally celebrated holidays (Easter, All Saint’s Day, Christmas) originated from the first peoples of the world with a focus on the Earth Mother and her cycles of life, death, and rebirth.
A beloved tradition
Once the Catholic church’s influence took hold in the Spanish-speaking countries of the Americas and parts of the U.S., its traditions became embedded in social and spiritual practices. Old traditions evolved, and adaptation became a clever way to maintain community and family ties. Las Posadas (The Inns) is one holiday custom that has been adapted to our snowy mountain community yet has managed to maintain its essence by those who journeyed here to create new lives and keep it going for future generations.
Throughout Mexico, the United States, and Latin America, people celebrate Las Posadas from Dec. 16 to 24. Each night carries a different significance, humility, strength, charity, faith, justice, purity, joy, and generosity. The tradition dates to the 1500s when Spanish missionaries brought Indigenous peoples of the Americas into the experiential belief of the miracle of Jesus Christ’s birth as it concurred with the native population’s solstice ceremonies.
Throughout the nine nights of ceremony, families and friends gather to reenact the story of how Mary and Joseph sought refuge on their pilgrimage from Nazareth to Bethlehem to await the birth of Jesus, Mary’s miraculously conceived son. The peregrinos, or pilgrims, walk door to door in search of a kind and welcoming host to ease the mother-to-be and spare her pain. On the ninth and final evening, a larger feast is prepared and shared, children smash a piñata, and some families go to the Misa de Gallo (midnight mass), literally the “Rooster’s Mass,” to celebrate the birth of Christ.
Paty Sigala and Ceci Sanchez, promotoras of the Sierra Community House, have been celebrating Las Posadas most of their lives. Hailing from Jalisco, Mexico, they are determined to keep their culture alive for their children, community, and themselves.
To Henness Flats, Tahoe Pines, Donner Creek…
Before the pandemic hit, they assembled community gatherings for Las Posadas through Dec. 23 despite cold, rain, and snow. Adults and children alike would arrive at preordained host houses in Donner Creek, Tahoe Pines, or Henness Flats with Mary and Jesus in the front while everyone sang Letania Para Pedir Posada (Litany to Ask for Lodging), a song with many verses performed among the innkeepers and the pilgrims.
A precious life-sized ceramic Niño Jesus was carried around to and from the host houses throughout the nights to ensure an authentic and meaningful experience for all as they adored the Christ Child in song and prayer. Eventually, the pilgrims would be let into the host homes after acknowledgment of the special guests of honor and the miracle that was to occur.
Once guests were invited in and the prayers and songs recited, children received aguinaldos (small bags of Mexican sweets and treats). Fresh tamales were served among a convivial moment of shared family, community, and commitment. Pozole, ponche (punch), and piñatas rounded out the final evening of pilgrimaging full of prayer, gratitude, and community. The final night was (and will once again be) hosted by the Sierra Community House in Truckee.
Preserving Los Posadas
Three years have passed since Las Posadas were performed in Truckee. Because of the Covid pandemic, there have been 1,095 days of separation and uncertainty. Yet, this year, Ceci and Paty say the community is asking for Las Posadas to return. They need it — not only for themselves but also for their children who they feel must keep these generational traditions alive after their ancestors’ pilgrimages to this new land in America, so their ancestors can see them shining and living good, honorable lives.
And they shall have Los Posadas once again because of a determined group of peregrinas who refuse to give up on their beliefs, traditions, and each other.
~ When Monica Caldari was growing up in Puerto Rico, Christmas was one of the most festive times of the year. The island’s tradition of the “Parranda” was similar to Las Posadas and much like caroling, but way more fun.