Friday, December 26, 2008

A Hispanic spiritual journey

A Hispanic spiritual journey
BY JUAN ANTONIO LIZAMA Times-Dispatch Staff Writer December 24, 2008

One visitor climbed the front steps of the Chesterfield County home and rapped loudly with the brass knocker.

Another squatted on the steps and began strumming a guitar. Others, holding candles and huddling around statues of Mary, Joseph, an angel and the baby Jesus, began singing in Spanish, asking for lodging.

The occupants inside the home responded in song, accompanied by a second guitar, saying the visitors should move on because they were afraid to open the door.

The visitors continued singing and finally persuaded the homeowners to let them into a small room in the basement.

The scene Monday evening at Mario Deras’ home in the Kings Forest neighborhood was part of a Posada — the Spanish word for inn — a traditional celebration in Mexico and Central American countries that recounts the journey of Mary and Joseph seeking shelter in Bethlehem for the birth of their son, Jesus.

Posadas are celebrated every night in individual homes from Dec. 16 to Christmas Eve. Parishioners at St. Augustine Catholic Church — including the participants in Monday’s re-enactment — will celebrate the last Posada tonight[jli: 12/24: ] at 7 at the church. It will be followed by a POSADA dramatization of the Angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she will give birth to God’s son and the pilgrimage by Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem.

Families who host Posadas usually give the visitors food such as tamales, hot chocolate or atole. In Mexico, it is common to have piñatas at the end of Posadas as well. The piñatas symbolize the devil and traditionally have seven spikes that signify the seven deadly sins, said the Rev. Shay W. Auerbach,[jli: CQ : ] pastor of Sacred Heart Church on Perry Street, which also has been celebrating at least two Posadas every night.

Children beat up the symbolically evil piñatas to break them down and find the goodness inside.

“It’s a wonderful theological celebration,“ Auerbach said. “It’s a way to sort of live the Scriptures.“

Deras, a native of El Salvador, said in an interview that he and his wife felt honored to be hosts for a Posada. The hosts were assigned through a lottery among the hundreds of families who attend Spanish Masses at St. Augustine.

“This is a joy and a blessing,“ he said. “It’s a gift from God.“

The group sang some traditional songs and reflected on a Scripture reading from Luke in which the angel tells the shepherds about Jesus’ birth.

Deras, who read the biblical passage, reminded the 40 or more people gathered at his home to follow Jesus’ example and to remain humble.

“Gifts are important, but don’t let them become an idol,“ he said. “It is more important that the baby Jesus is born in our hearts.“

Though the Posada is a tradition that reminds people of home, some also see the story of Joseph and Mary seeking shelter as applying to their immigrant status.

One woman from El Salvador who came to Monday’s Posada with a young child asked during a prayer time for Mary and Joseph to intercede on her behalf in her effort to gain permission to stay in the United States.

“We are asking that they let us into this country so we can help our families in our country,“ she said.

As the celebration continued, the group praised the mother of Jesus, chanting, “Long live Mary.“

“Thanks to María, we have Posadas,“ Reynaldo Villegas, a construction worker who played one of the guitars, said later.

The participants ended the Posada in a festive mood as they clapped and sang the popular José Feliciano tune: “Feliz Navidad, Feliz Navidad ... I want to wish you a Merry Christmas, I want to wish you a Merry Christmas.“

Contact Juan Antonio Lizama at (804) 649-6513 or

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