Christmas Posadas in Panama

Las Posadas, image from
Las Posadas, image from
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By Sister Angelina Mitre

Las Posadas is a nine-day celebration that originated in Spain and spread to many Latin American countries and to some parts of southwestern United States. It begins on December 16 and culminates on the 24th of December.

Evidence shows that in Mexico in 1587, Augustinian Fray Diego de San Soria, prior of the convent of San Agustin Acolman, in what is the present State of Mexico, requested (and received) a papal bull of then Pope Sixtus V to hold additional annual Christmas masses at that site and at others in the Viceroyalty to commemorate that event from the 16th to the 24th of December.   

In Panama, Las Posadas serve as preparation for the celebration of Christmas Day. Every night for nine nights, a procession departs from the parish church, singing Advent songs asking the Savior to come:

“Let the earth be opened and send forth a Savior!”

Singing and playing tambourines and guitars, they proceed to the house of the family who have offered accommodation to those seeking shelter. The children dress as shepherds, one girl and one boy dress as the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph, and a newborn baby is chosen to represent the baby Jesus. Accompanied by the faithful, Mary and Joseph walk along, asking for shelter. Once they arrive at the house, they are divided into two groups; one group is singing the part asking for shelter outside, while the other group is responding to the pilgrims’ request from inside.

The baby Jesus rests in the manger provided in the home they are visiting. They sing Christmas carols, read a biblical text, and offer a reflection, petitions and a final prayer. Afterwards, the host family offers a reception consisting of soft drinks and sweets. They leave the home singing. The next day, another family hosts.

Sister Elizabeth Davis, a Sister of Mercy in Newfoundland, wrote: “Throughout our history as women of Mercy, true to our Jewish and Irish roots, we have faithfully followed Jesus and Catherine [McAuley, founder of the Sisters of Mercy] to create places of ministry: hospitals, orphanages, hospices, children’s homes, women’s shelters, shelters for refugees, and affordable housing units. All are places of hospitality.”

Hospitality is a value of our heritage of Mercy. We welcome diverse people who come into our homes seeking accommodation. We also pray for those who have to leave their homeland, looking for a place where they can live in peace and security. In this season of Advent, how can we embody the spirit of Las Posadas—the spirit of Mercy hospitality? Whom can we welcome in our lives?