|The library is a fantastic resource when studying celebrations from the Mexican culture.|
One of the things I love about homeshooling is that we can spend our day doing fun activities to learn about anything at all. Instead of a bunch of book work, worksheets, and long, drawn out tests, we can spend our time in a much more engaging and memorable way. We love to read lots of exciting books, write and draw about what we have learned, and sometimes even make crafts or take field trips to expand upon the content of our studies.
This week, we have been studying about different cultures and how they celebrate the holidays. Mexico and the American Southwest has been our focus over the past few days. My kids have been delighted, and a little jealous, to learn how long their celebrations go on and at the multiple opportunities to get presents and have elaborate holiday meals. We would like to share with you a bit of what we have learned. By the way, you obviously don’t have to be a homeschooler to have fun learning with the kiddos. Maybe you can celebrate with us, too!
Posada means inn, or lodging, in Spanish. In 158, St. John of the Cross made a religious pageant out of the traditional story of Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus. Seven years later, it was introduced to the Native Americans in Mexico by Spanish missionaries. They wanted to teach people about the Bible, but at the time, most people could not read it themselves, so it was decided that plays would be a great mode of educating them and allowing the people to participate in traditional Bible stories. This tradition is carried out today in Mexico and many other Hispanic cultures throughout North and South America. Many of the books we read talked about celebrations in modern-day New Mexico, as well!
The tradition is for communities to gather together and reenact the story from the Bible (Luke 2:1-9) beginning December 16th. (Some books we read said December 15th.). Las Posadas is actually a novena which means “nine each” and is a drama that is based on prayers repeated for nine days in a row. In one book we read, it said that each night, a different boy and girl would dress up as Mary and Joseph and half of the participants would be split between being pilgrims outside with Mary and Joseph, and half would wait inside of that evening’s hosting home (a different home would be visited each of the 9 nights). Many times, the host’s home would light the path to their home with farolitas, which are paper bags weighted down with sand that have lit candles in the middle.
To begin, Joseph and Mary knock on the door of the house several times. The host family acts as the innkeepers. When they answer, they lead the peregrinos (the Spanish word for pilgrims) in a song that asks for shelter for that evening. The group inside of the house answers in song complaining about being disturbed. They sing 16 verses, alternating between the people outside and inside singing until the innkeepers finally invite Mary, Joseph, and the other guests inside. Once inside, the celebration continues on with more singing and prayers, as well as a yummy feast!
When studying about this, my kids refused to dress up and act it out, even though I knew it would be adorable, but they did enjoy listening to the song’s lyrics. They cracked up at how the innkeepers responded at first to Mary and Joseph.
Along with the celebration of Las Posadas is Pastorelas which is a special type of drama or performance that takes place in the countryside and has to do with the pastores, or shepherds. This tradition was also introduced in the 1500s and is a mixture of comedy, folklore, and religious teachings to portray the eternal conflict of good and evil. Though the Bible portrays the pilgrimage of the shepherds to see the newborn Christ in Bethlehem, the pastorelas has the shepherds encountering all sorts of problems getting there, all brought about by the Devil. He tries to disrupt their journey but is foiled each time and the shepherds do make it to the baby Jesus to offer him their humble gifts.
I didn’t focus much on this part because my kids have been up having nightmares lately, so I didn’t want to through Lucifer in the mix with our holiday studies. It is pretty interesting, however, and involves many people from the community acting out this elaborate production.
What About Christmas Eve and Christmas Day?
As we saw in a lot of our research, many people in the Mexican culture do celebrate Christmas with Santa Claus bringing gifts. It is another way for families to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ as well, and another reason to feast on yummy foods!
|A pinata made by a not-so-crafty mama.|
In addition to all of these fun activities, we ran across many mentions of huge celebrations, many including pinatas! My kids were thrilled to make their own make-shift pinata to celebrate, which consisted of a paper Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles bag filled with leftover Halloween goodies and tied off with a wire bag tie reused from a package of hot dogs. They had a good time whacking it with a wooden spoon to make it tear open so they could have the goodies inside. I never claimed to be a crafty kind of mom, and I think this sort of proves that.
Three Kings Day (Los Tres Reyes Magos)
Twelve days after Christmas, on January 6th, it is tradition to celebrate the three wise men that brought gifts to baby Jesus. Children leave out their shoes or a small box the night before, sometimes filling it with hay or leaving a small bowl of water out, for the camels of the three wise men. The wise men, named Gaspar, Melchior, and Baltazar in Spanish, just might bring the children gifts and fill up their shoes or the little box!
Some kids even write letters or make cards for the Kings to tell them how good they have been and to leave a wishlist for presents.
|Grace wrote a letter to the Three Kings to tell them what she wanted this holiday season.|
This reminded us a lot of the tradition to leave out stockings, and milk and cookies for Santa and snacks for the reindeer. My kids had a blast making their own box for the Three Kings. We didn’t have any hay lying around, so my kids made their own with yellow paper and coloring white paper yellow. We also decorated our box, which happened to be a taco shells box. That was entirely coincidental, but even my daughter found the humor in it and pointed it out to me. We’re total dorks, it’s true!
|Here’s the final product: our box for the Three Kings. Grace also wrote a note to them that says, “I’ve been…very good!”|
When asked what their favorite part about the Mexican celebrations for the holidays were, Grace said she liked making the hay for the box for the Three Kings. I don’t think that really counts, but don’t have the heart to change her answer. Michael told me that his favorite part was that there was a lot of EATING! My 3 year old son told me that his favorite part was cookies. I’m not sure they’re really getting this, but when I specifically asked them about the celebration, they were able to tell me all about it. We’ll call that a win for now! My favorite part from learning about these traditions was that there is such a HUGE community focus with the festivities. I think it is incredible how much work, thought, effort, and love is put into these productions each year.
For Further Reading
If you’re interested in learning more about these neat traditions with your family, I encourage you to do some further research. There are so many amazing resources out there, but a few that we really enjoyed were:
- “Christmas in Mexico: Christmas Around the World From World Book” by World Book, Inc.
- “Las Posadas: An Hispanic Christmas Celebration” by Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith
- “Merry Christmas, Old Armadillo” by Larry Dane Brimner
- “The Farolitos of Christmas” by Rudolfo Anaya
- “Merry Christmas Everywhere!” by Arlene Erlbach with Herb Erlbach
- “Christmas in Other Lands: Circle the Year With Holidays” by Janet McDonnell and Jane Buerger
- “Christmas Around the World” by Mary D. Lankford
- Mommy Maestra‘s blog, full of lesson plans, crafts, recipes, and more!