By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Posadas celebrates journey, birth of Jesus

“In the name of heaven, I ask you for shelter, for my beloved wife can go no farther,” sang Joseph and his supporters, about half the people gathered for the second night of the annual posadas.

Posadas, roughly translated as “lodging,” is a nine-day event that recreates the couple’s journey to Bethleham, their search for shelter and the birth of the Savior. It originated in Spain and is common in Mexico and some other Spanish-speaking countries and among Spanish-speaking Catholics in the U.S. At San Martin de Porres, it’s been a Dec. 16 to 24 tradition for three decades.

Each of the nine sessions — nine in honor of the nine months the Virgin Mary carried Jesus in her womb — starts with the arrival of Mary and Joseph. Half the participants knock and sing out a request for shelter, and the other half respond by telling them, in song, to go away.

“This is not an inn, get on with you, I cannot open the door, you might be a rogue,” the group sings in Spanish.

Mary and Joseph and their supporters move to the next house, or, at San Martin, an inner doorway. They sing out their request, and once again are denied. At the third stop, they reveal that Mary is about to give birth to the holy infant. They are admitted as the congregation sings about opening not just their doors, but their hearts, to God.

Alejandra Rocha Demarquez grew up attending Posadas at San Martin. She said she always anticipated going with her family and spending time with the other kids at the evening events.

“It’s children’s favorite time of year,” she said. “Adults see it as important; children see it as fun.”

These days, she takes her daughter, Zoe, 6, and sons Azrael, 1, and Juan, 14. The eldest is part of the church’s youth group, which helps with the music and activities at the Posadas, and he also volunteers at a soup kitchen in McMinnville throughout the year.

“I always look forward to this,” said Juan, who is preparing for his confirmation in the church next spring. “It’s a tradition.”

Youngsters from every family play roles in the celebration. For instance, they take turns playing Mary, Joseph and the Angel Gabriel for the service following the knocking ceremony.

The church sanctuary is dressed for the season with advent candles and a large nativity scene, which depicts humans, angels and animals, but is missing the baby Jesus. During the service on Dec. 24, the final night of Posadas, children place the infant in the manger, gently rocking him on a blanket before nestling him in the straw, Rocha Demarquez said.

“We know that Jesus wasn’t really born on the 24th, but it’s another reminder to us,” she said.

She said the priest, Father Moises, has been speaking about preparing one’s heart for the coming of Jesus. Get rid of resentment and hate, his message says, and make room for love.

On Tuesday, the second night of the Posadas, church members led the service, retelling part of the Christmas story. “A child will be born in Bethleham. His name shall be Prince of Peace,” the reader intoned in Spanish. “Holy forever, the child that comes.”

After the service, participants gathered in the church social hall to share Mexican hot chocolate and pan dulce. Sister Juanita surveyed the crowd, pleased to see so many families in attendance.

“Nine nights is a sacrifice,” she said. “They have to run home from work, get ready, and they bring the supplies — the milk, the bread, the pinatas. It costs them time and money.

“But it’s important. It’s awesome to re-enact this to show us how we have to give lodging in our hearts to Jesus.”

The Posadas builds community among the families in the church and newcomers, as well, the nun said. And it’s invigorating.

“Maybe I’m in the car, I’m tired, but when I get in here my energy soars,” she said. “I delight in it.”

She stepped forward for another important part of her duties — helping with piñatas at the end of the evening. As a pony-shaped pinata dangled from the ceiling, Sister Juanita handed a stick to the next child in line, then spun the youngster around several times before she started swinging.

Piñatas end each Posadas session. Kids love the game and the candy, Rocha Demarquez said, but the pinata has a deeper meaning, as well.

Traditionally, a pinata is shaped like a ball with seven spikes, representing the seven deadly sins, she said. The stick represents God. A blindfold tied over the eyes of the person hitting the pinata represents blind faith. And the candy that falls symbolizes God’s grace.

The posadas continues at 7 o’clock nightly through Dec. 24. The church is located across Ferry Street from Dayton City Hall. Everyone is welcome.

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