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Mexican Christmas tradition alive and well in Chicago's Back of the Yards neighborhood

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Posadas are a Christmas tradition that is celebrated in Latin America, mainly in Mexico where it originated. In its simplest form, posadas are a reenactment of the journey Joseph and a pregnant Mary made from Nazareth to Bethlehem, where Jesus was born. Traditionally, they are celebrated for nine consecutive nights beginning December 16th and culminating on Christmas Eve.

Given the Chicago area’s sizeable Mexican-American community, it’s no surprise that over 80 churches in the Chicago Archdiocese have posadas planned for this Christmas season.

Holy Cross/Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in the Back of the Yards neighborhood is among them. Parishioners there have volunteered to host a posada since the church began to organize them over 20 years ago.

On the second night of this year’s posada, Holy Cross had some 200 people attend, which is typical even for weekday nights. Participants arrive at the home of the person in charge of hosting the night’s posada. In this case it was the Garcia Rodriguez family, who've been volunteering to host for over 10 years now.

Shortly after 6 p.m. Father Bruce Wellems of Holy Cross started things off by introducing Mary and Joseph, or rather the boy and girl that volunteered to dress up and play the parts. Mary, Joseph and the rest of the participants huddled on the sidewalk, singing “pido posada” or asking for shelter. The Garcias responded in song that they could not let them in for they could be scoundrels. Father Bruce then gave a short blessing, leading the crowd in a prayer before everyone, including the Garcias, headed down the street to the next house on their list.

Although it's cold and dark the procession is joyful. As they walk the participants sing about marching to Bethlehem. The procession stops at six more houses, every time they are denied shelter and the group must continue on. Sometimes small bags with candy are given out to the many children that are participating in the posada. Traditionally the procession ends at one of these homes and everyone is welcomed inside for food and drinks. But a group this large would hardly fit in a home or even a backyard, so the procession makes its way instead to the hall adjacent to Immaculate Heart of Mary Church. Here, after asking for posada one last time, the group is finally welcomed inside to the tune of "entren santos peregrinos" or "enter holy pilgrims."

This is also where the posada leaves behind some the religious symbolism and becomes more of a big family get-together. The church’s marimba ensemble plays Mexican Christmas songs or “villancicos” along with American Christmas carols. The Garcias feed the hungry crowd “pozole” a Mexican stew, and the children take turns breaking a piñata filled with candy. Before they leave for the night each child gets to take home a softball sized piñata, which is handmade by the Garcias.

For Teodora Garcia the posadas she helps organize at Holy Cross remind her of those her mother and sisters hosted in Michoacan, Mexico. Though Teodora is definitely the lead organizer of this tradition in her family, her husband and five children, ranging in age from 29 to 12, also help out. And now Germain Garcia, one of Teodora’s sons, is thinking about continuing with this tradition. That is if his future family helps out as well.

For a list of posadas in the Chicago area click here.

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