Looking for another rich tradition to incorporate into your celebration of Advent? Has your observance of the Advent season been derailed, causing you to search for something to help you finish strong and prayerfully? Look no further than the Latin American custom of Las Posadas! This is a beautiful and unique novena that brings to life the Biblical story of Christmas and acts as a faith-filled way to build community and the virtue of hospitality.
Brought to Mexico in the 16th century by Augustinian missionaries from Spain, it is traditionally celebrated together by families. “Las Posadas” is Spanish for “lodging” or “the inns” – and is centered around the part of the Christmas story in which the Holy Family is looking for shelter in Bethlehem.
How to pray the Novena
The Las Posadas novena begins nine days before Christmas, starting on December 16th and ending on December 24th. The nine days symbolize the nine months of the Virgin Mary’s pregnancy. Nine homes of the community are chosen to represent the inns in Bethlehem, at which Mary and Joseph asked for shelter.
There are of course variations from community to community on the details of the observance, but generally, in the traditional observance of Las Posadas, each evening of the novena begins with a procession. The children of the participating families often dress up in biblical costumes and are led, along with their parents, by a man and woman representing Mary and Joseph to one of the chosen homes. Candles are carried and songs are sung along the route of the procession. Once arriving at the home, the participants knock and request admittance. After an initial refusal from the homeowners (acting as the innkeepers, in memory of the experience of the Holy Family at the inns of Bethlehem), the traditional hymn of Las Posadas is sung, the “Holy Family” is recognized, and the procession is welcomed in. The observance of the devotion is continued by praying in front of a nativity scene – often praying the Rosary together – and then continuing with fellowship, activities for the children (such as Christmas star-shaped pinatas), and food.
Do you love the idea of Los Posadas, but can’t quite swing that big of a celebratory novena this year? Check out these incredible recorded reflections from the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles.
This novena could certainly be incorporated as part of your community observance of the novena, but can also be used individually to participate in the devotion and prepare your heart for the coming of the Christ Child.
Enter holy pilgrims, pilgrims
receive this corner
not this poor dwelling
but my heart.
Tonight is for joy,
for pleasure and rejoicing
for tonight we will give lodging
to the Mother of God the Son.
-Traditional Los Posadas Song
Whether you observe the novena in a big or a small way, the core of the prayer remains the same: it is an invitation to joyfully throw open the doors of our hearts to the Lord, and welcome Him in whole-heatedly. Let’s be intentional in doing so this Advent!