This Christmas celebration involves music, tamales and piñatas

The World

Mexicans celebrate the holiday season every year with the re-enactment of Mary and Joseph's journey as they looked for shelter on the eve of Jesus’ birth.

The tradition of Las Posadas dates back nearly 500 years to when Spanish missionaries wanted to tell the story of the birth of Jesus to the indigenous people of Mexico. So they created this nine-day celebration. But the ritual has been modified, slightly, for today’s Mexican Americans.

For the past 10 years, my own family and I organized Las Posadas at our home in Los Angeles. We invite close friends and neighbors and, at about 7 p.m., we walk around our neighborhood toward nearby homes asking for posada — or shelter. Tonight, there are more than 30 adults and about 10 kids walking around with us.

As we approach the first house, about five of us go inside, while the rest of our group stays outside — each holding a songbook in one hand, and a candle in the other. The group begins the posada song, singing in a call-and-response manner. One group starts singing:

In heaven's name, I ask for shelter, since my beloved wife, cannot be walking in the night

Then, inside, the smaller group responds:

This is not a hostel. Go on ahead, I will not open the door, I'm afraid it might be a thief.

As we walk from one house to the next, we sing other traditional villancicos, or Christmas carols. At our second stop, the lyrics continue the story:

We're so tired of walking, all the way from Nazareth. I'm a carpenter, my name is Joseph

Inside the house, the owners respond:

I don't care about the name, let me sleep. I insist on telling you, I will not open the door.

Continuing our journey, we sing another villancico — this time we sing "Campana Sobre Campana" or "Bell Over Bell." And finally, at our last stop, we get a different lyrical response:

Are you Joseph? Is your wife Mary? Please come in pilgrims, I did not recognize you.

As we walk in, everyone sings the welcoming verses:

Come in Holy pilgrims. Though our home is poor,we offer it to you, from the heart

The end of our journey is our own home, and inside, we host a party for everyone. In Mexico, the family hosting the Posada is responsible for feeding everyone, but since we're in the U.S., guests bring tamales or bottles of wine.

As the hosts of the Posada, it’s our responsibility to make the ponche, a warm punch that’s essential to this Mexican celebration. Ponche is made with apples, guavas and sugar cane, as well as, raisins, prunes, hibiscus, cinnamon and brown sugar. But the most important ingredient in the ponche is a special seasonal Mexican fruit called tecojote.

Finally, we get to the exciting part — it’s time to break piñatas. The piñata-breaking tradition dates back to the earliest Posadas in Mexico. Piñatas were made with seven points, to represent the seven cardinal sins: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy and gluttony.

The idea is to hit each of the seven points, blindfolded, to get rid of the bad stuff in your life and usher in a new life, and a new year. Here's wishing you and your family Feliz Navidad!