Las Posadas is a traditional Mexican festival which takes place from 16 December to 24 December. It commemorates the search for shelter by Mary and Joseph with a series of parties around the neighborhood. In some parts of Mexico, it is a major holiday, with the whole community taking part. Mexican immigrants in other parts of the world may also celebrate Las Posadas, if the immigrant community is large enough, and participation isn't restricted to Mexicans; other people in the community are certainly welcome to participate.
In Spanish, Las Posadas means “The Inns,” and during this festival, people form a procession which symbolically visits homes asking for shelter. People in the procession dress up, sing songs, and sometimes bring a burro or donkey along to represent the donkey which brought Mary into Jerusalem. One home in particular is designated as the “inn” each night, and when the procession reaches that home, the hosts welcome them in for a Posadas party which includes music, dancing, food, and prayer.
The choice of a different home to host the party on each night of this festival ensures that everyone in a neighborhood can participate without overtaxing any given host. In some regions, the procession ceremonially asks for shelter at two other homes before reaching the location of the designated party for the evening, in a reminder of the difficulty that Mary and Joseph had when they tried to seek shelter before the birth of Christ. Typically, the location of the party is decorated with a large nativity scene.
At the party, guests are served an assortment of traditional Mexican holiday treats, and children play with a piñata which is traditionally made in the shape of a star. On the last night of Las Posadas, the party ends with a trip to church for the midnight Nativity mass. Typically several neighborhoods in a town will have Posadas parties going on, and these parties may meet up as they wend their way through the streets to church.
Mexico is a very religious country, and while Las Posadas is a great excuse for socialization and parties, it is also a deeply religious event. Many communities may join together in prayer at the nativity scene before the party begins, for example, and traditional Posadas songs are filled with religious symbolism. The holiday also celebrates and encourages kindness, generosity, and love among the members of a community.