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An unusual twist to the Mexican posada.


photo courtesy of Judy Cameron at

In the U.S. January is a month when Christmas is but a memory and all that is left of the holidays is waiting around for the the 'Day of Reckoning' when the credit card charges come due.

Never a favorite time of mine stateside when it seemed that way too much was crammed into an already busy schedule, I've come to revel in Mexico's relaxed, extended approach to Christmas celebrations. Even if a person is not particularly religious, one can get caught up in the ceremony, the rituals and the fellowship that keeps going for, oh, almost two months.

Given the importance of conversation in the festivities, our particular Posada this year will last long after the lights are put away and serve us for many holiday seasons to come.


The posada, a nine-day celebration before Christmas, recreates Mary and Joseph's search for a place to stay on their journey to Bethlehem.

Although the lyrics of the story are still sung, the tradition has given way somewhat to a version of a modern day block party Mexican style. Here in Pátzcuaro, various neighborhoods between December 16th and the 24th pretty much shut off the street, light bonfires outside of those houses participating and bring out huge vats of a spicy fruit punch.

The tantalizing smell of the hot drink is as much an invitation as the warmth of the fire on a chilly night and nights do tend to get chilly in Pátzcuaro during the winter. Brightly colored streamers are often strung up and down the street giving a festive atmosphere to the area even during daylight hours.

At night the streamers are joined by an array of multi-colored Christmas lights as neighbors make the rounds from fire to fire. Candy is distributed to the kids, a dash of spirits added to the fruit punch for adults and old gossip is rehashed and new stories started.

Traditionally, the breaking of the piñata is the grand finale to every posada.

Since this one was made by a former student in Minnesota, it was saved from this fate for a time. But since good customs sometimes have a tendency to travel, who knows its current fate.


Occasionally a tourist ventures into the festivities and is courteously received even though this remains somewhat an insider celebration.

In the traditional songs, posada or lodging is requested for Mary as Joseph leads the burro on which she is seated from inn to inn. The burro is really no more than an extra to the tableaux. He has at best a walk-on part.

No one in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago or in Mexico today would ever think to request posada for a burro. The thought is more than ludicrous.

However, the braying appropriate to this beast outside our house in mid December let us in on the fact that maybe burros had never been consulted about whether or not they wanted posada. Either that or once again, Mexico was able to add a new, unexpected twist to even the most imbedded of traditions.

Because here indeed was a burro in need of, if not posada, at least something. Water for one. The fact that he consumed a great deal made me wonder just how long he had been wandering about.

Ownerless burros are unheard of in this part of the countryside and the halter and long rope that had caught in the bushes attested to the fact that this critter was no exception.

He was a shoe-in for the burro we had seen on our way back from Tacambaro the day before. In a very traditional reenactment of the posada, a little girl, dressed as Mary has been depicted as being dressed in countless generations of Christmas cards, sat sidesaddle on a burro led by a young boy carrying a staff and dressed as Joseph. They were followed by a small contingent of parents and kids slowly making their way along the one main street of the town.

It is highly dubious, despite the copious intake of water, that the very same burro found its way all those kilometers up and down the mountains to land up on our doorstep but he sure looked the part.

Just what DOES one do with a burro?

We considered getting some sacks together and heading down the hill to haul back some firewood, a chore I'm sure the little guy was most accustomed to doing. But we figured that would be just the moment the owner would show up and who knows what kind of reaction such a vision would precipitate.

So we now have perhaps the first burro to successfully gain posada all on his own in this Nativity reenactment.

He really is quite a docile enough chap following me up the stairs from the field below so I could anchor him where we had sections of reasonably tall grass. For small helpings of alfalfa, he has rewarded me with generous amounts of fertilizer for my compost pile.

Back in Minnesota, we had kept a number of what I had referred to as Foul Fowl from geese to guineas with an assortment of other animals thrown in but we had never entertained the idea of keeping a burro.

I was again faced with the dilemma of, 'Just what DOES one do with a burro?'

For lack of any better ideas, I've been doing the same thing I do with the other four-footed members of the household. I feed him and give him water. I pet him, scratch his ears and talk to him. I brush him and take him for walks. As opposed to the dogs, I also have to clean up after him.

It seems quite normal to engage in these activities with our canines. But have you ever thought how ridiculous a person can feel taking a burrow for a walk?

He seems to like it, though.

Now that I've sort of worked out what one does with a burro, we're left with the quandary of 'What will we DO with a burro?

But it is the Christmas season. We'll hope for a miracle.



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