by Father Mark Goldasich
Well, it’s pink candle time on the Advent wreath. This year, that means there are only nine days left until Christmas. For procrastinators out there — and we know who we are — this is an exhausting and nerve-wracking period. It’s when I want to just smack something! And I might give into that urge this year . . . by buying a piñata. More on that later.
Last Sunday, I announced to the parish my intention of having all of my Christmas cards written and gifts purchased by midnight on the Third Sunday of Advent. Why? Because I’m weary of dreading the nine days before Christmas. Instead of being a time of spiritual richness, peacefulness and generosity, those days are usually crammed with last-minute Christmas card writing, frantic shopping and a general sense of frustration and impatience.
A remedy to all of this comes from our Hispanic sisters and brothers. It’s called Las Posadas and runs from Dec. 16-24. “Posada” means “inn” or “shelter” and commemorates Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem.
According to Mary Ellen Hynes, author of “Companion to the Calendar: A Guide to the Saints and Mysteries of the Christian Calendar,” groups of singing people wander through a neighborhood during Las Posadas, accompanied by musicians. Sometimes small figures of Mary and Joseph are carried or children might be dressed up as the pilgrim couple. Candles light the way of the procession.
At each home, the pilgrims stop to ask for shelter. A rude voice inside tells them to go away. They respond kindly that Mary is about to give birth to the Baby Jesus. Eventually, a door is flung open and all are welcomed inside. The Nativity figures are placed on a small altar set up for the occasion, songs are sung, prayers said, and festive foods are consumed.
Las Posadas reminds everyone that Jesus was born to a poor and humble couple. We’re called to extend hospitality to everyone. “Unless we open our doors to Christ,” writes Hynes, “Christmas cannot come.”
I like that. Usually I’m so busy before Christmas that I almost forget what the feast is all about. I’m changing that this year. Although I don’t intend to physically and formally join in Las Posadas, I will celebrate its spirituality.
My prayer will include the five Advent and Christmas mysteries: the prophet Isaiah condemns injustice and the abuse of power and announces the coming of the Messiah; the Annunciation; Mary and Joseph ask for shelter; the announcement to the shepherds; and the Magi worship Jesus.
I’ll sing Advent and Christmas hymns (with a little help from my CDs).
I’ll enjoy “Snowman Soup,” courtesy of the Altar Society: a package of Swiss Miss Chocolate Truffle cocoa mix, a candy cane “stirring stick,” and some miniature marshmallows.
I’ll assemble a 1000-piece Christmas puzzle, “StainedGlass Window,” that I bought last year but never opened.
I’ll call some out-of-town friends to wish them a Merry Christmas and chat a bit.
Finally, I’ve scheduled a meal or two with friends, as well as a Christmas movie night.
Still on my bucket list, though, will be that piñata. I never realized that it was a catechetical tool of 16th-century missionaries to the New World. The piñata was shaped like a star with seven points to represent the seven deadly sins. Its bright colors mean temptation. The blindfold represents faith, and the stick used to strike the piñata stands for virtue and grace. The goodies inside the piñata symbolize the riches of the kingdom of heaven.
In short, the message is: With faith, virtue and grace — and with the help of the community around us (who yell directions to people taking whacks at the piñata) — we can break the bonds of sin and receive heavenly rewards. (Adapted from “The Posada,” published by the Knights of Columbus.)
If your heart seems far from ready to welcome the newborn King, consider some Las Posadas spirituality. It’s the best gift you could give — to yourself and to family and friends.