“Mary and Joseph played with my Barbie dolls. But they didn’t have Santa hats to wear.” Alys, aged six, and her brother Jamie, three, were just two of the children who took part in the local Posada journey here in Chandler’s Ford. This annual event is become increasingly common in the weeks of Advent, as we prepare for Christmas.
The journey involves the nativity figures of Mary and Joseph, who will later adorn the crib in church during the Christmas season. The idea is that they make their way around the area, staying in people’s homes, usually for one night, before they move – or are moved – on. Families and individuals sign up for a roster so that the holy couple is passed from home to home each day.
Their journey starts on Advent Sunday when the figures are brought into church by two children. The vicar explains to the congregation what is happening, and blesses the figures and their hosts as he sends them on their way. Over the next month the figures travel around the area, echoing the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem all those years ago. They arrive back at the church on Christmas Eve, welcomed by the vicar and congregation, again with some ceremony and explanation of their adventure.
Some families keep the figures at home for the children to play with and re-enact in role play the wonderful story, while others may make a social occasion of it, inviting friends and neighbours round to ‘meet’ the figures. Others will take them to their place of work for the day to allow their colleagues to take part too. The figures will be taken to shops, surgery waiting rooms, care homes – wherever the parishioners choose to take them. The opportunity for outreach to sections of the community that may not usually go to church are endless. But above all, the symbolism of the two parallel journeys, two thousand years apart, is wonderful – simple but compelling.
A similar journey, still celebrated in Central America, is Las Posadas, a novena which involves a ‘real’, human Mary and Joseph travelling around their community for the nine days before Christmas. This custom has been practised in Mexico for over 500 years and although Catholic in its roots, is now also popular in Protestant areas. This could well be the root of our modern English version of the Posada.
I visited Joan, an 85-year-old resident of one of the care homes in Chandler’s Ford. Someone had brought the figures in to the home and they were placed on a table in the lounge, with a brief explanation of what they were and why they had come. There was no ceremony, no churchy talk, just friendly chat over a cup of coffee and the opportunity to pass them round to be handled and admired. Naturally, this gave way to memories, “I remember …” and stories of Christmases past.
Months later, Alys and I talked about when the figures visited her home and played with her Barbie dolls. I was struck by her vivid memory of an evening now some months past and her delight in how her modern toys had played with the traditional figures. Her mother and I exchanged smiles at Alys’s enthusiasm, enchanted to see how her toys and the nativity figures, representing cultures spanning two thousand years, could come together to bring the meaning of the Christmas journey home to a young family.
Want to know more about Posadas? Read this: The tradition of Posada started in Mexico – a re-enactment of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem, seeking shelter (posada means ‘inn’).