Updated: Jan 8
We had planned on a quiet Christmas Eve at home, in anticipation of Doug’s arrival with his kids on Christmas day. But when he called to say he was canceling the trip because of the covid numbers and the risk to the kids of going into crowded airports and then onto crowded flights, all our plans for the holiday were off as well. Candida invited us to join them for Christmas eve dinner, and our neighbors, Claude and Jeri, asked if now that plans changed couldn’t we come to their Christmas day dinner party? But I just wasn’t up to socializing. I wanted the holiday to pass and the days to move on until Jan 8th when we are scheduled to fly to the States for a week to be with family.
But San Miguel has a way of soothing you, caressing you until you look around and suddenly realize you feel fine and alive to whatever is happening at the moment. I had been so focused on making plans for my son’s and grandchildren’s week-long visit that I hadn’t paid much attention to the traditional events that happen in San Miguel leading up to Christmas Day. It was easy to forget that the holiday was coming so soon, with flowers blooming and the sun warming the temperatures every afternoon, even at the end of December. There’s no blaring music, no rude crowds.
At the last minute, Christmas was upon us. Jack and I decided to experience the final posada that was to take place in the town square on Christmas Eve, since we didn’t have to stay home to get ready for company anymore. We had no idea what to expect when we went, having only read about Posadas (the word means inns in Spanish) and never having seen one. There are nine nights of posadas in San Miguel, one for each of the nine nights leading up to Christmas Day. Christmas Posadas are parades that commemorate the journey that Mary of Nazareth and Joseph made from Nazareth to Bethlehem in search of a warm place to stay where Mary could give birth to Jesus. Traditionally, a posada meant groups of people would go door to door asking to be let in, but were turned away until finally they reached a home that welcomed them with a meal. Today’s posadas are groups of people parading through the streets of all the neighborhoods, sometimes on horseback in candlelight, sometimes with marching bands accompanying them, and then everyone goes home to have a family meal.
We walked to the town square while it was still light, had dinner of chiles en nogada, a traditional dish using ingredients the color of Christmas, at a quiet courtyard restaurant just down from the Parroquia, the pink marble church in the center of the square where the posada was to take place. After dinner, we walked the rest of the way to the church, where people in masks (everyone here wears masks to protect against Covid, even outside) had arrived even earlier than we did to get a front row seat on the 3 foot high wall facing the church. The wonderful thing about being an old person is that people here give us preferential treatment, stand and offer us their places. It’s always a surprise, and usually I protest saying we’re just fine standing, but this night promised to be a long one, so we gratefully accepted. For maybe half an hour we watched the couples and families with dogs walking around the square, waiting for the parade to start. The man sitting next to me was from Cuernevaca, and eventually we started talking. He had come with his wife and two grown children to visit relatives who lived in San Miguel. We talked for nearly an hour in Spanish as the sky grew dark and the waiting grew long, but pleasant. He spoke slowly enough that I could understand him perfectly and didn’t feel pressured to speak so quickly myself that I made no sense.
“It is a Catholic country,” the stranger next to me said, looking up at the majesty of the lighted Parroquia . “It is a religious holiday, I think different from the US where it’s not so religious. Here it’s a time for people to renew their faith, to thank God for all that is good in their lives….Do you have a Christmas tree in your house?” he asked abruptly. “No,” I said. I’m not Catholic. I’m Jewish.” “It doesn’t matter,” he said in mock horror. “You must. You are in Mexico, whatever you are! A Christmas tree brings good luck to you and all your family for the whole year! “
With that, a band announced that the posada was beginning, and a truck with a flatbed pulled in front of the church. On the flatbed three people dressed as Mary, Joseph and the Angel formed a tableau bathed in white light. It was amazingly effective. The marching band followed behind and more and more people from the crowd fell in behind them and marched around the square and down one of the side streets. The crowd thinned and Jack and I made our way slowly back down to our neighborhood, stopping to pick up Christmas tree cupcakes to eat at home. It is impossible to feel lonely or sad for too long in San Miguel.