On the nine evenings leading up to Christmas, one group of Episcopalians will be gathering in homes to sing, pray and share a meal. Gathering around a nativity scene, they will meditate and pray in preparation for Christmas. This is Las Posadas and the Novena, traditional Advent festivals from Central and South America, and for many members of St. Luke’s/San Lucas in Chelsea, it’s a way to keep tradition alive in their new home.
Las Posadas, Spanish for “the inns,” is a nine-night reenactment of Mary and Joseph’s arrival in Bethlehem, and how they were turned away from all of the inns in town. The celebration takes
place from Dec. 16 to Christmas Eve. On each of the nine nights, a group processes to a home, carrying images of Mary and Joseph. They sing a song asking to be let in. The hosts, locked inside, sing a response, refusing the group entry. Unlike Mary and Joseph, the procession is eventually welcomed inside. The hosts provide a feast, often including tamales, traditionally eaten at Christmastime. The images of Mary and Joseph stay in the host family’s home as a blessing until the next night, when they will be carried to the next house.
The combined celebration began six years ago, when the Rev. Edgar Gutiérrez-Duarte, Vicar of St. Luke's/San Lucas, arrived and many members of the mission congregation told him that they wanted to do Las Posadas. The church decided to celebrate both Las Posadas, most widely celebrated in Central America, and the Novena, a nine-night series of prayers and meditations, which is popular in Gutiérrez-Duarte’s native Colombia. Once the group has been welcomed into the host family’s home, they spend time gathered around a nativity scene in prayer and meditation. Each night has a different meditation and prayer: a prayer to Mary, a prayer to Joseph, a prayer to the child Jesus.
Typically the nine hosts are members of the congregation, but sometimes their friends sign up as hosts, too. The celebration of Las Posadas and the Novenas is an opportunity to reach people who may not normally attend church, Gutiérrez-Duarte said. “It brings the church into homes, so as an evangelistic tool it’s great," he said.
Of course, recreating this equatorial Advent tradition in New England can be tricky.
“In our latitude, it does involve going out when it’s cold and icy,” Gutiérrez-Duarte said.
Although the weather might not cooperate, for members of St. Luke's/San Lucas, Las Posadas is a chance to keep in touch with their Latin American heritage and traditions.
“To Latin Americans who have switched countries and religions, [Las Posadas] provides something from their own tradition, both cultural and religious,” said Gutiérrez-Duarte “In Latin America, religion and culture are pretty much intertwined and intermixed. By opening this in the Episcopal Church we’re providing something else without sacrificing our own spirituality.”