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Las Posadas is a nine-day celebration with origins in Spain, now celebrated chiefly in Mexico, Guatemala and parts of the Southwestern United States, beginning December 16 and ending December 24, on evenings (about 8 or 10 PM).
Posada is Spanish for "lodging", or "accommodation"; it is said in plural because it is celebrated more than one day in that period. The nine-day novena represents the nine months of pregnancy, specifically the pregnancy of Mary carrying Jesus.
The procedure has been a tradition in Mexico for 400 years. While its roots are in Catholicism, even Protestant Latinos follow the tradition. It may have been started in the 16th century by St. Ignatius of Loyola or Friar Pedro de Gant in Mexico. It may have been started by early friars who combined Spanish Catholicism with the December Aztec celebration of the birth of Huitzilopochtli.
The head of the procession will have a candle inside a paper lampshade. At each house, the resident responds by singing a song and Mary and Joseph are finally recognized and allowed to enter. Once the "innkeepers" let them in, the group of guests come into the home and kneel around the Nativity scene to pray (typically, the Rosary). Latin American countries have continued to celebrate this holiday to this day, with very few changes to the tradition. In some places, the final location may be a church instead of a home.
Individuals may actually play the various parts of Mary (María) and Joseph with the expectant mother riding a real donkey (burro), with attendants such as angels and shepherds acquired along the way, or the pilgrims may carry images of the holy personages instead. Children may carry poinsettias. The procession will be followed by musicians, with the entire procession singing posadas such as pedir posada. At the end of each night's journey, there will be Christmas carols (villancicos), children will break open star-shaped piñatas to obtain candy and fruit hidden inside, and there will be a feast. Piñatas are traditionally made out of clay. It is expected to meet all the invitees in a previous procession.
In Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco the Vallarta Botanical Gardens hosts a Las Posadas celebration on December 20 During workshops in the daytime, participants make their own nativity scenes with local natural materials including Spanish moss. In the evening, carolers proceed to nativities that are placed among important plants including poinsettias and native Mexican pines. A bonfire and more singing rounds out the celebrations.
A large procession occurs along the San Antonio River Walk and has been held since 1966. It is held across large landmarks in San Antonio, Texas, including the Arneson River Theater, Museo Alameda, and the Spanish Governor's Palace, ending at the Cathedral of San Fernando.
In the Philippines, which shares Spanish culture due to being a former possession, the Posadas tradition is illustrated by the Panunulúyan pageant. Sometimes it is performed right before the Misa de Gallo (Midnight Mass), or on each of the nine nights. The main difference with the original is that actors portray Mary and Joseph instead of statues, and they sing the lines requesting for accommodation. The lines of the "innkeepers" are also sung, but sometimes they respond without singing. Another difference is that the lyrics are not in Spanish but in one of the local languages, such as Tagalog.
Nicaragua has an event, called La Gritería (The Shoutings), which happens only one day, on December 7, in honor of La Purísima Virgen (The Purest Virgin). The people go out on the street, sing to the Virgin and then visit their neighbors for food, drink and gifts.
Cuba also has something similar, called Parrandas (though Parrandas has more of a Carnaval in atmosphere). The tradition began in the 18th century when Father Francisco Vigil de Quiñones, the priest of the Grand Cathedral of Remedios, in order to get the people to come to midnight masses the week before Christmas had the idea to put together groups of children and provide them with jars, plates and spoons so they could run around the village making noise and singing verses. The idea persisted over the years and with time it gain complexity ending in the street party that has remained till these days.