The Posadas and Nativity in San Miguel
By Jesús Aguado
During this time of the year, it is very common to attend the traditional posadas. But what are the posadas? They are nothing more than nearly theatrical reenactments of Joseph’s and Mary’s pilgrimage prior to Jesus Christ’s birth. The tradition was brought to New Spain by the Spanish friars and it was used as a strategy to attract more devotees to Catholicism. Posadas have become a Mexican tradition. These celebrations begin on December 16 and end with the rocking of baby Jesus’ statue on December 24.
The gospel according to Luke indicates that at the time of Christ’s birth, Emperor Caesar Augustus ordered a “global” population census. Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth and had to leave the city for Bethlehem to enroll in the census. Mary was pregnant and during the journey they had to ask for posada (shelter) nine times, yet no one helped them. That is why baby Jesus was born in a manger.
It is essential that the processions include mysterious icons—images of the pilgrims or the sacred family. The posadas include many presentations and forms, however the most classic depicts the Virgin Mary wearing a white dress, blue mantle, sandals, and a hat, riding a donkey. The donkey is led by Joseph, who wears a green tunic and yellow mantle, sandals, and a hat. Joseph carries a stick with a bottle gourd tied at the top. An angel, dressed in white, lights the path in front of the pilgrims and the donkey. The sizes of the pilgrim images may vary but they are always carried by children.
In the Village of San Miguel el Grande (now San Miguel de Allende) the posadas have been celebrated since 1737 at the Oratorio, where they continue after the 6pm mass. At the end of the ceremony, an acolyte pulls a small cart with the pilgrims on it. The cart is followed by children dressed up as shepherds and adults who sing the posadas. The celebration is accompanied by live music from the tuna Oratoriana and shelter is requested from the Oratorio to the House of Our Lady of Loreto. Avecillas Tristes (Sad Swallows) and Llegó el Tiempo (The Time has Come) are just a few of the special Christmas carols that can be heard in this temple. The compositions were written by sanmiguelenses José María Correa and Genaro Sandi.
A vignette written and published in 1995 by the then city historian José Cornelio López states that the public posadas—featuring people portraying the pilgrims—that run throughout the city, with live music and Christmas carols, have been celebrated since 1913. At that time, the pilgrims traveled in a cart pulled by mules. Later, due to the revolutionary war, the posadas were canceled until 1939, when the tradition was revived by Mayor Eulalio Nava. According to traditionalist Gloria Navarrete, who took part as the Virgin Mary in 1956, the pilgrims traveled in a motor vehicle that was used by the Public Services Department to collect the trash during the day. Navarrete says that the posada was headed by children dressed as shepherds and accompanied by live music–guitar, trumpet, violin, and saxophone. There was a man named Antonio Correa, she remembered, who had a very old car and on it he used to carry a piano and a choir, and when it was time to ask for posada, they sang the popular song In the Name of Heaven, We Ask for Shelter, as well as traditional Christmas carols. Currently, the car with the pilgrims and attendants leave daily from a church at 7pm. During the journey, aguinaldos (plastic bags with candies) are thrown by some Sanmiguelenses from the balconies. Piñatas are hung in the street and broken by participants. Check the calendar in Festivals and Events of Qué Pasa.
The Nativity scene
The nacimiento (Nativity scene) has been set up in the kiosk of the Jardín Principal since 1960. It was the idea of José Rodríguez, also known as “El Monero.” Since the beginning it included life-sized sculptures of Virgin Mary, Joseph, and even of baby Jesus. The nacimiento also features live chickens, donkeys, sheep, and cows in a corral. After El Monero’s death, Genaro Almanza kept the tradition. Marisol Vidargas, a traditionalist, commented that the first sculptures displayed in the kiosk’s Nativity scene were financed by traditionalists Cruz Téllez, Alfonso Rodríguez, and Gabriel Vidargas, who donated the images to the Santa Ana church situated on calle Insurgentes. In that church, the nacimiento is set up before December 24. Then on January 11, after the 9am mass, baby Jesus is carried and given to the mass attendants to kiss. At the end they receive aguinaldos.
In 2003, the local administration started placing a giant Christmas tree at the esplanade of the Jardín Principal. It has not over-shadowed the kiosk nativity scene that has been placed by Ángeles Almanza (Genaro Almanza’s daughter) and her family since 2009. This year, the scene will be set up on December 22 and will remain until January 7. The public posadas conclude before this nacimiento on December 24, around 9pm, where baby Jesus is rocked to sleep and aguinaldos are given to the attendants.
Another vignette published in 1995 states that, “…this Nativity scene with living animals reminds us of another one, where even baby Jesus was represented by a real baby.” That nacimiento, according to the document, “was memorable because of its originality and beauty. For the children it was unforgettable because of the candies.”
At this time of the year, the nacimientos can be found everywhere in the city. They can be purchased with all the elements—pilgrims, animals, and adornment—at the Christmas markets located in the tianguis zone of the Ignacio Ramírez market, the market of San Juan de Dios, and Mercado de Guadalupe. The prices for a Nativity scene vary from 1,000 to 3,000 pesos, depending on the material and the size.
Among the most notable nacimientos is that of Anselmo Martínez on calle Insurgentes 103. Martínez told Atención that for as long as he can remember, his family has set up the Nativity scene, originally on calle Órganos. When he moved to Insurgentes he wanted to keep the family tradition. His nacimiento includes figurines that he has been collecting for more than 30 years and depict several chapters of Jesus Christ’s life.
Martínez comments that his family had a pharmacy and he started making “small houses” with Styrofoam. “I remember that the first piece I made was a church, and my daughter helped me with her hair bands and ‘balls.’ I used baby bottle nipples too for decorating the structure.” After 30 years, Martinez started constructing not just “small houses,” but whole villages that are available for sale. Those who visit Martinez’s village can look into the windows and see figurines of people feeding animals, fixing shoes, baking bread, and a representation of Joseph’s workshop where he is assisted by his son, Jesus. This year, the village includes King Herod´s castle, where he can be seen holding a baby upside down who is about to be murdered. This nacimiento is open to the general public daily from 9am to 7pm.