By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
IOWA CITY — Dani Larraga has celebrated Las Posadas with her family for as long as she can remember. “Some of my oldest memories with my extended family consist of me sitting next to my cousins by a Nativity scene praying the rosary, singing the traditional songs and just catching up on each other’s lives.”
Now a student at the University of Iowa, Larraga shares this tradition each year with peers and staff at Newman Catholic Student Center’s annual Las Posadas event.
About Las Posadas
Las Posadas is a novena celebrated primarily in Mexico, though in the United States this tradition has extended to many other Hispanic Catholic communities, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). The USCCB believes that the spread and continuation of this tradition may be due to Hispanic Catholics’ identification with the migration experience of the Holy Family. They typically observe Las Posadas nightly from Dec. 16-24.
Since most students are taking finals or on winter break during this time, Newman Center celebrates one night of Las Posadas before finals begin. This year’s celebration on Dec. 12 coincided with the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which students celebrated at 9 p.m. Mass. Las Posadas followed.
The group gathered at Newman Center — a mix of Hispanic and non-Hispanic students — began Las Posadas by praying the rosary in Spanish. English speakers and Spanish speakers who did not have the rosary prayers memorized followed along with a printout. Student Lucero Manzanares led the first decade of the rosary and explained that for Las Posadas people pray the Luminous Mysteries. It is customary to sing the “Estrella de Rendicion” (“Star of Redemption”) prayer after each decade.
After praying the rosary, students split into two groups, one representing Mary and Joseph seeking shelter in Bethlehem and the other representing the innkeepers. The groups sang The Posadas Song in call-and-response style, with the innkeepers sending Mary and Joseph away until the last verse when they welcome the couple and offer them shelter in the stable. “Although the dwelling is poor, I give it to you with all my heart,” is the English translation of a section of the final verse.
After finding shelter, the students took turns breaking a multicolored star piñata with cone-like points. Student Luz Martinez explained that the points represent the deadly sins. The stick used to break the piñata represents “the support and love of God, and how it will help us destroy sin.”
Student helpers tried to increase the difficulty of breaking the piñata by blindfolding and spinning students holding the stick, sometimes facing them in the wrong direction. Martinez explained, “We have this joke in Mexico where we lead someone to a tree instead of the piñata.”
The piñata broke within a few turns but not enough for all the candy to fall out. Manzanares said, “Usually when this happens, someone tall shakes it.” Once she found someone suited for the task, students rushed around the piñata to grab assorted Mexican candies. Guests also helped themselves to doughnuts and Mexican hot chocolate.
A new experience
Student Cade Naughton participated in Las Posadas for the first time a couple of years ago. “I like the significance of it … and it is nice to see how Latino culture celebrates the (Advent) season. We (non-Hispanics) don’t have anything like this.”
“It’s genuinely a fun event,” said student Elizabeth Starr, communications fellow for Newman Center. She believes Las Posadas “is a great start to developing more multicultural events at the Newman Center.”
Martinez, whose parents are from Mexico, said she loves the enthusiasm of non-Hispanic students. “They are ready to pray the rosary in Spanish, try different traditional foods and even the spicy Mexican candy!”
Welcoming Spanish-speaking students
Christine Wissink, Newman Center’s director of outreach and education, says it is challenging for many students who primarily pray and practice their faith in Spanish to feel comfortable attending Mass or other faith formation activities at the center since most programming is in English. “By doing Las Posadas, this is one activity, or doorway, we can provide to help connect to students we don’t normally see.”
At least five Latino students who participated in Las Posadas said they had never been to Newman Center before. As they prepared to leave at the event’s conclusion, the center’s priest director, Father Jeff Belger, told them they are always welcome at Newman Center.
Martinez said, “This is a wonderful opportunity to bring in Latino students that are looking to continue with their faith and that miss celebrations such as Las Posadas.”
Parish Las Posadas
Las Posadas typically take place nightly from Dec. 16-24, either in a parish setting or in people’s homes. Here is a listing of some of the posadas taking place at parishes in the Davenport diocese.
Columbus Junction – Dec. 16-20, 7 p.m.; Dec. 21-22, 5 p.m.; Dec. 23, 7 p.m.
Davenport – Dec. 16-23, 6 p.m., St. Mary Parish
Iowa City – Dec. 21, 5:45 p.m., St. Patrick Parish
Muscatine – Dec. 16-23, 6 p.m., Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish
Washington – Dec. 16-23, 7 p.m., St. James Parish
West Liberty – Dec 16-20, 7 p.m.; Dec. 22, 4 p.m., St. Joseph Parish.