On this night, the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem is cold and difficult.
Joseph and a very pregnant Mary, riding on a donkey, are in search of warm place to spend the night. Innkeepers turn them away. In their weariness, Joseph and Mary trudge on until they are finally welcomed.
Re-enacting the Holy Family’s journey is a moving experience. Just ask the members of Zion Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Elgin, Ill., who brought the familiar biblical story back to life in 2010 and celebrated it again in 2011.
“Las Posadas,” the re-enactment of Mary and Joseph’s journey, is a 400-year-old Mexican tradition being kept alive in the United States. “Las Posadas” means “the inns,” as there was no room in the inn for Mary and Joseph the night Jesus was born. Solemn and deeply religious in feeling at first, the re-enactment quickly turns into a celebration of fun and laughter.
“It was an awesome experience,” says Emma St. John, a teenage member of Zion.
With scarves, gloves and hats, Emma and other faithful members of the congregation and community brave chilling December temperatures for the re-enactment.
“The fact that we invite the neighborhood to participate is also awesome,” says Emma, adding that Las Posadas is also an exciting departure from the annual “cheesy Christmas pageant.”
But according to Dianha Ortega-Ehreth, a member of Zion who organizes the observances, there are members who still want that “cheesy” Christmas pageant.
“Last year some members said they missed the traditional Christmas program. So for 2011, we’re doing both,” says Dianha, who says that making both possible will take the hands-on and financial support of members of the small congregation.
“The goal is to continue doing Las Posadas, because we want to build recognition and trust with the people in our neighborhood, as well as members of Zion,” she says. “It’s important to be a welcoming neighborhood church that understands some about people who live near us, as well as our long-time members.”
Relying on the hospitality of others
Las Posadas begins at dusk, starting with a procession led by children.
Two children from the congregation play the part of Joseph and Mary. Following them during the observance are members of the congregation known as “pilgrims.” Musicians lead all in song.
As they travel from house to house in the neighborhood, the pilgrims bring to life the conversation between Joseph and innkeepers. A chorus of voices who answer the door sing, “Who knocks at my door so late in the night?”
In song the pilgrims respond, “In the name of heaven I beg you for lodging.”
Once Mary and Joseph find shelter, the procession returns to the church for an evening of celebration that includes worship, dessert and a piñata.
“From birth, Jesus relies on the hospitality of others,” says Dianha. Hospitality is important for the members of Zion, too, as they work to engage their neighbors.
“We wanted to share with our Spanish-speaking neighbors that they are welcome here,” Dianha says. “We’re a small congregation but very committed and active in our community.”
“Hospitality continued to be a key part of how Jesus’ ministry spread, and is still spreading, to all the ends of the earth,” Dianha says, “And the same will be true for Zion.”