Photo: Rick Romancito
Story and images originally published in Tempo, Taos News
The nine nights leading up to Christmas are marked by Las Posadas, a Catholic tradition that reenacts Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter before Jesus was born. They take place in private homes, town centers and churches, and the entire community is invited to join.
Among the many posadas held in Taos, a very popular one is led by Deacon Larry Torres. On December 19th it was celebrated in Doña Genara Sanchez’s home in Arroyo Hondo. More than sixty people attended it. Doña Genara has been hosting posadas for over twenty years.
When the posada starts, songs are exchanged between the posaderos (the people who stay inside the house) and the posadistas (the ones that seek shelter with the two children playing Mary and Joseph).
Songs and prayers, in English and Spanish, are printed in “Las Posadas,” a book written by Deacon Torres and dedicated to the memory of his brother Filmer Torres. The book was distributed to the attendees so it was easy to follow along.
One of the verses said,
“¿Quién les da posada
A estos peregrinos
Que vienen cansados
De andar los caminos?”
(Who will give us lodging,
Pilgrims both we be,
Tired from our journey,
As you well can see?)
After several songs, the peregrinos are finally admitted. They all come in and the celebration goes on.
El Santo Niño
Once inside, one of the first prayers was offered to El Santo Niño de Atocha. This image of the child Jesus, dressed in a long blue gown with a cape, is object of popular devotion in the Sanctuary of Chimayo, where there is s shrine dedicated to him.
Deacon Torres referred to a tradition of miracles witnessed by Fr. Casimiro Roca, who has been a priest in the Chimayo Church for over fifty years.
“When children begin to take their first steps, their parents bring their little shoes to the Santo Niño de Atocha image at the Chimayo Church,” he said. “Next day, the soles are all worn out. And you know why? Because El Santo Niño has been traveling all over, visiting the poor, the homeless, people in jail and hospitals…people who have nobody to visit them.”
Deacon Torres also told the story of San Cristobal, the saint who carried El Niño de Atocha across an acequia and was later baptized as Christopher, which means “the bearer of Christ.”
“Tonight we are all Cristobales,” Deacon Torres said.
He then noticed that the face of the doll representing Baby Jesus was covered.
“Virgin Mary is not smothering the baby,” he said. “The face of Jesus is kept covered until the last day of the Posada, to symbolize the fact that he isn’t born yet.”
The Nativity scene
How many people know the origin of Nativity scenes? Deacon Torres recounted it.
“In 1223 Saint Francis of Assisi went to Bethlehem and was shown Jesus’ birthplace, where he was blessed with deep feelings of devotion,” he said. “He wanted others to have the same experience, but the Holy Land was under war and siege. He was inspired to create the Nativity scene or Christmas crèche that we have in our homes today, with the baby in the manger.”
Later Deacon Torres gave Doña Genara an image of the Sacred Heart so she would always remember this very sacred and special night in her home. He led people in singing “Vamos todos a Belen” (after explaining the French origin of this song) and gave his blessing to the food.
A tasty buffet
There is no posada without comida. Doña Genara had been busy all day preparing a feast for the visitors and the kitchen was filled with the smells of posole, chile and freshly made empanaditas. She and her daughters also made tamales, sopaipillas, flan and rice pudding.
“My son made the menudo,” she said. “Menudo and posole are typical posada dishes.”
“It’s a lot of work,” said her daughter Linda Cisneros. “But we love to do it.”
Los posadistas, Mary and Joseph
Pam Harris has been attending posadas for about fourteen years.
“They bring the neighbors together like a big happy family,” she said. “It’s so much fun. One year we even had Mary riding a donkey! The Posadas also embody the true meaning of Christmas, which is all about community and love.”
German Torres is coming to Doña Genara’s house for the first time, but he has attended many other posadas in Taos and also in Albuquerque, where he lived for several years.
“Last night the posada was held in La Hacienda de los Martinez,” he said. “It was beautiful. La Reina de Taos was there with her Royal Court. Y mucha gente. I was delighted to see so many people. Las Posadas are a symbol of our culture that has been going on for centuries and we need to preserve it.”
Gera Brown came because she knows the Sanchez family, but she also enjoys the tradition and what it represents.
“This is a very nice way to start the Christmas holidays,” she said.
Tiana Gallegos and Diego Alvarez, both students at Arroyos del Norte Elementary School, played Mary and Joseph. Gallegos is Doña Genara’s great granddaughter and Alvarez is her grandson.
“This is my first time playing Joseph,” said Alvarez. “I was shy at first, when everybody was looking at me, but then I liked it. And I know all the songs.”
“It’s such an honor to host a posada,” said Doña Genara. “I want to thank Deacon Torres and everybody that showed up. God bless you all. Que Dios los bendiga a todos y feliz Navidad.”