Katrina Robinson shares how she discovered the Latin American Advent tradition and provides tips on how to organise your own Posada
One November day at the library where I work, an email pinged into my Inbox. “The Oxford Posada!” proclaimed the subject line. Er…what? My eyes flicked upwards to the sender’s name: the librarian of an Oxford Christian research centre called Pusey House. “Was this going to be something scarily intellectual?” I wondered.
Then I glanced at the attached image; two tiny, folk-art wooden figures representing Mary the mother of Jesus (with a noticeable ‘baby bump’) and her husband Joseph, kneeling beside a miniature antique.
Outside in the city streets Christmas pop blared from tinselled shops. Inside I was stilled by this silent and serene image. The plainly carved little figures, looking intently at the Bible. Hoping, expecting, anticipating that one day, very soon, a special baby would be lying there.
A spiritual thawing
This was how the Advent tradition called Posada came into my life. A nudge from God causing a little bit of spiritual ice inside me to thaw.
A miserable and unwanted midlife divorce had gnawed away at my faith. Every Christian book on relationships I had read had taught me that God guided you and the right person together. Now events seemed to have proved this wrong and I found it hard to trust.
At the same time I had the strange niggling feeling that something or Somebody wasn’t leaving me alone. I hung on mentally but with little sense of emotional connection. And now this random email on Advent genuinely touched me: Mary and Joseph, two imperfect human beings charged with a big task. Perhaps afraid but willing to wait, trust and go on a journey.
Instead of clicking on the ‘Delete’ button I read on. “Dear Colleagues, we’re running the Oxford Posada again this December, and we’re looking for libraries who would like to take part.”
A ‘Posada’, the email explained, is the UK version of Las Posadas, (‘lodging place’), an Advent activity popular among Latin American Christians, celebrating the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem of Mary, Joseph and the as-yet-unborn Messiah.
Participants come together in early December to ‘host’ tiny symbolic figures of Mary, Joseph and a donkey, passing the little figures between people’s homes, classrooms, shops, libraries or other public spaces, till the group arrives back at a church for Christmas Day.
Advent calendars I was familiar with but not Advent as a spiritual season, distinct from Christmas. My curiosity was piqued.
At this stage I was hesitant to get involved, so I did a very 21st-century thing and followed the Oxford Posada at a safe distance on social media. Using hashtags #PosadaJourney, #OxfordPosada, and #AdventPosada on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, I discovered images and stories of Posadas taking place up and down the UK.
Paul and Helen Sheppard from Moreton Methodist Church, Wirral were attracted by the idea of holding a Posada event “as something that could be enjoyed by lots of people of all ages including those who might not be able to go out to events.
“We wanted to help people focus on the real Advent story at a time when so much around us is far too dominated by the commercialisation of Christmas,” they explained. “There was a real sense of communal involvement throughout Advent and an additional focus in Sunday worship.”
Posada is a great way of taking the Advent message of the birth of Jesus beyond the church doors into the local community. Norma Nevin, lay chaplain to a street of Durham shops “visited each shop or business early in November, explaining the Posada idea”. Many agreed to take part, and during Sunday morning services in December the congregation would pray for the businesses that had hosted the Posada that week.
“The commitment of volunteering to move the Posada figures around brought the congregation closer. It was also a great opportunity for outreach, a real blessing to all concerned.”
A deeper spiritual message
Learning more about Posada has brought something home to me. Mary’s pregnancy is like a physical symbol of a spiritual reality because Christ is seeking to grow in us spiritually as Christ grows within Mary physically: “Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19).
The tiny vulnerable Posada figures are a reminder of Christ seeking a safe space within us: “I stand at the door, and knock. If anyone opens the door, I will come in” (Revelation 3:20). From that place he can grow us and love others through us.
It a big thought. It has changed this time of year for me and all the Advents to come.
Practical tips for Posadas
1. Find or make a nativity set.
2. Explain the idea to people in your church or local community and ask if they’d like to ‘host’ Mary and Joseph in their homes for a night of Advent. It’s a great way of involving people on the fringes of church or interested bystanders who might have little church contact. Create a sign-up sheet and then organise a route for the figures to travel from house to house.
3. Share stories and pictures of your local Posada to social media using #AdventPosada, #PosadaJourney or #[CommunityName]Posada, and follow others.
4. Use a simple Posada prayer when the figures are handed over between households, asking God to reveal something of the Christmas story to all and to pray for those who, like Mary and Joseph, have nowhere to go. Offer simple hospitality as the Posada figures are received into each new household: a drink, a sit down and a chat.
Find out more about Posada
(For more ideas, here is a helpful book on hosting a Posada)