Carmela Garza first sang the songs of Las Posadas 70 years ago, when she was 4 years old.
“I was 7 years old the first time I understood what this is all about,” Garza said as she and about 50 fellow believers celebrated the Christmas tradition.
The crowd of parishioners from St. John the Apostle Catholic Church in North Richland Hills and other congregations were gathered Friday in a storefront off Bedford-Euless Road that usually hosts Zumba lessons. This night it was given over to the fifth of nine consecutive Las Posadas events, described as parties mixed with religious symbolism as well as cultural and religious lessons for children.
Beginning Dec. 16, celebrants meet each night to follow children who are dressed as Mary and Joseph, shepherds and angels, as they go from place to place asking for, and being denied, shelter, said Father Juan Guerrero of Holy Name Catholic Church in Fort Worth.
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“The posadas commemorate not only the journey that Mary and Joseph made from Nazareth to Bethlehem, but also their struggle to find shelter for Jesus’ birth and the nine months that Mary carried him,” Guerrero said.
Eventually, the children and the crowd following them are invited into a home or other building where they find shelter, sing songs and recite the rosary, but also enjoy traditional foods and a pinata.
The pinata in the shape of a seven-pointed star — each point representing a cardinal sin — is broken with a stick, Guerrero said.
The stick “represents the strength and power of God,” Guerrero said. “When broken, the fall of candy, fruit, etc, represents the reward and gift” for overcoming sin.
Each of the first eight nights the congregants meet in people’s homes or other places, but the last of the posadas on Christmas Eve culminates with a commemoration in a church that includes a Mass.
The tradition was brought to St. John the Apostle in 1997 at the insistence of Father Daniel Kelley, said church spokeswoman Lola Pasillas.
“I had to go to other parishes to find out how to do Las Posadas,” Pasillas said. “Our Hispanic community was flourishing at St. John. That was one of the big Christmas traditions, and father [Kelley] was responding to the needs of the community. It’s been very successful.”
Passing down the Las Posadas tradition to their children helps parishioners avoid focusing “on the materialistic Christmas, Santa Claus and what the world has to offer,” Pasillas said. “There’s a deeper meaning than warm fuzzy. It goes into the essence of our faith. Watching this actually touches the foundation of my faith in my heart.”
Las Posadas came to the United States with Latin American people who grew up celebrating it, and like most traditions that are powerful enough to cross borders, its meaning is more than the sum of its parts.
Garza said the emotion she has felt from Las Posadas has matured over time, but never changed.
“It’s like when the Virgin Mary was expecting Jesus,” Garza said. “It’s like when I was expecting my first baby. It’s like when I held my first baby in my arms. It’s love.”
Star-Telegram reporter Diane Smith contributed to this article.