A Christmas Posada in Cuernavaca

A Christmas Posada in Cuernavaca, Mexico

Preparations

Last year our neighbors wanted to celebrate the Christmas posadas with everyone on the block, but since by unlucky coincidence three (maybe death does come in threes) families had lost an elderly relative earlier that year, they didn’t want to do posadas. So, we at the end of the block had one big posada.

The day before, we hosts stuffed little cellophane baggies covered in Santa and holly motifs with bulk candies, flavorless Mexican animal cookies, peanuts in the shell, and mandarins. These little party favors are called “the aguinaldo.” Also, everyone who helped to host the posada bought a couple big bags of fruit for the punch.

Making the Christmas Punch

The day of the party we tidied up the yard where we were going to host the posada. We all washed and chopped kilos of fruits and sugar cane, then in the evening lit two open braziers to get some coals started. When my neighbor decided the time was right we had a burly relative of hers put two laundry-basket sized pots on the fire full of fruits and cinnamon sticks. We belatedly realized that we had no way to stir or serve the punch because we only had standard ladles. My husband crafted a handle extension out of a piece of wood wired to our largest wooden spoon.

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One pot was too close to the coals, not getting enough oxygen, and therefore not boiling but one pot boiled and started to smell good pretty soon. We stirred and added more wood to the fire, stirred and tasted, went to the store for another kilo of sugar and after a while had punch that we thought was good enough for our guests. Once both pots were well cooked we debated on which pot had better punch, since they each had their own unique flavor.

When the punch was almost ready my neighbor sent one of her children up to the church to tell those who were celebrating there that there was another posada down on our street. In the true spirit of Christmas she was competing with the priest, who she believed to be too controlling anyway. We had the big door to the yard closed and eventually someone noticed that guests were starting to arrive.

I “Got” to carry the Virgin

Suddenly I was called to the door. My neighbor and her sister were telling me that I was going to carry the virgin. I tried all kinds of excuses to get out of being the center of attention, starting with the most obvious: I had no idea what we were doing, nor how to sing the song (let alone how to sing any song), but it was fruitless. I was handed a ceramic statue of the Virgin Mary standing on some grass with animals around her, which must have weighed about 5 pounds.

My neighbor’s sister informed me that I was to just walk slowly up and down the street leading all of the people while they sang the song. My neighbor linked arms with me, holding a little piece of paper with the words to the song (thank goodness) out for me to see. I did my best to give the virgin a dignified cruise up and down our block, while trying not to sing loud enough for anyone to hear me. I guess I didn’t do too badly because the statue didn’t complain, though it did get heavier and heavier as we went.

When the virgin, I, and our tail of singers got back to the door we sang the part of the song that finally gets a positive response. Some family members had stayed inside and sang the reply that gave us permission to come in. They opened the door, someone took the heavy virgin, and we began filling Styrofoam punch mugs and passing out bags of candy as quickly as possible.

Sharing the leftovers

We only served about ½ the punch by the time the crowd began to thin and head out, so we sent runners to the nearest neighbors asking them if they wanted some punch. They sent over their Tupperware lemonade pitchers and we filled those and sent them back with them. We gave away a lot of the extra “aguinaldo” bags, but still had enough to munch on for the next few days. My father used the flavorless animal cookies as markers for his bingo cards later that week (and a new Christmas tradition was born).

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