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festiveLaPosta Mike Groves

For December we thought we would visit some of the Christmas traditions and customs that are celebrated in Mesilla, New Mexico. Why is it significant? Well, when you consider that Mesilla was a Mexican settlement dating back to 1848, and then later became the New Mexico Territory in 1853, this area has seen not only a lot of history, but a blending of cultures and traditions.

Over time, the La Posta de Mesilla compound has seen Christmas as observed by the Spanish, Mexicans, Austrians and Americans, each contributing in different ways to our celebrations. Here are a few ways we celebrate and decorate for Christmas in historic Old Mesilla.

La Posta de Mesilla – Always Decked for the Holidays!

Christmas decor

When Jerean Camunez Hutchinson and her husband Tom (a.k.a. Hutch) acquired the legendary La Posta de Mesilla in 1996 – a new tradition of celebrating Christmas and the holidays was established in the Southwest, shining new light to the phrase “deck the halls!” Jerean’s Hispanic roots are the core for her passion and love for all things Mexican and a decorating style of “mas y mas” (e.g., more and more) that charms all.

For over twenty years, a creative band of designing elves has been delighting the young at heart with a magical creativity that every year distinctly transforms an 1840’s historic adobe building into a festive collection of 15 adobe dining rooms, a patio and two cantinas, each uniquely adorned with “puro” Mexican décor and sparkling lights. Over 50 Christmas trees and wreaths of varying size & whimsical hand-crafted Mexican artwork, flowers, ornaments, “y mas” – artfully enhance each rooms’ vintage ambiance!

A life size Mexican folk-art Nativity created and painted by local artist Kathy Groves is traditionally displayed throughout the La Posta compound. Or perhaps one prefers the traditional life-size Roman Fontanini Nativity surrounded by vintage hand-painted Mexican angels! The unique beauty of La Posta de Mesilla with its’ amazing flair during the Christmas season is a gift to all who wander and dine during the holidays!

And your stop at La Posta de Mesilla during the Christmas holidays would not be complete without trying our famous Christmas Enchilada – topped with both our local red and green chile or indulging in our traditional heart-warming red chile posole with a pumpkin empanada (a la mode) to top off your meal. To celebrate the holiday season, be sure to try our specialty spiced Cranberry Christmas Margarita! A feast for the eyes, the aroma of holiday spices, and the lively spirits that happily say – Feliz Navidad & Happy Holidays!

Luminarias

Traditional Christmas Eve luminarias are said to originate from Spanish merchants. They were impressed with the paper lanterns from the Chinese culture and decided to make their own version when they returned to New Spain using them particularly during the Christmas season. Traditionally, luminarias are made from brown paper bags weighted down with sand and illuminated from within by a lit candle. These are typically arranged in rows to create large and elaborate displays.

The hope among Roman Catholics is that the lights will guide the spirit of the Christ child to one's home. La Posta de Mesilla embraces this tradition year-round by decking the La Posta compound roof-top with luminarias. The historic quaint town of Old Mesilla traditionally has over 1,000 luminarias lighting your way throughout the town and the historic plaza on Christmas Eve complete with caroling.

Mesilla's luminaria tradition began in the 1960s when local resident Josefina Gamboa Biel Emerson began inviting parishioners from San Albino Basilica to visit her home (a block away) after the Christmas Eve Mass. There they would enjoy menudo, biscochos (small sugar and cinnamon cookies) and wine. To prepare Josefina would light dozens of these traditional luminarias to decorate her home. As time went on she began expanding this display, and got other residents to join her. Soon the entire plaza was lined with these beautiful, glowing bags and now it is tradition to gather on the plaza after the 5pm Christmas Eve mass to sing carols surrounded by luminarias!

Los Pastores (The Shepherds’ Play)

The 16th-century Spanish drama re-enacts the shepherds’ search for the newborn Christ child. Along the way, the shepherds experience temptation, human weaknesses and problems with the weather. In the end, they encounter the holy family and rejoice.

Hundreds of years ago, the Catholic Church used a sequence of plays called “autos sacramentales” (acts of faith) to illustrate lessons of faith. During these times, few people could read, so church officials relied on oral tradition (including Los Pastores) to spread their gospel messages. Today, many communities in the Southwest present this beautiful play filled with much pageantry, singing and dancing to capture the spirit of Christmas.

Tamales

tamales

Tamales, those little bundles of corn dough wrapped around some type of sweet or savory filling, and then finally wrapped with a corn husk, originated in Mesoamerica as early as 8000 to 5000 BC and are still enjoyed today throughout Mexico, Central and South America, and of course, the American Southwest.

It has become tradition to make tamales close to Christmas time….and it is usually a communal affair. Throughout the Southwest and Latin America, families will gather for what is called a Tamalada. Together they will spread masa (ground corn-based dough) on a corn husk, place a dollop of some type of filling in the middle, and then fold the whole thing over onto itself.

The filling can vary from fruit to something more savory. In Mesilla, you will usually find red chile pork or green chile chicken fillings… and both are absolutely delicious. If you want to learn how to make them yourselves, you can pick up a copy of our cook book where our founder, Katy Griggs, shares her secret to the best tamales around!

Las Posadas (The Inns)

Like Los Pastores, the tradition of the Posadas was brought to Mexico from Spain in the 16th century by Catholic Missionaries. The Posadas commemorate Mary and Joseph's difficult journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem in search of a place for the Christ Child to be born.

In Spanish, the word “posadas” means dwelling or Inn and “Las Posadas” begins on December 16 and continues for nine evenings, culminating with the acceptance of Mary and Joseph at the “Posada/Inn” on December 24th.

Traditions may vary for Las Posadas but typically nine homes or families in a neighborhood are selected to represent the “Posadas” or Inns. Each night, the families taking part form a procession and make a pilgrimage to one of the Inns. They carry candles and sing hymns depicting the story of Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem. Songs are shared at the door of each “Inn”. On each of the first eight nights, the family of the “Inn” sings a song indicating that there is no room for the Holy Family and Mary and Joseph are sent away. Finally, on December 24th, Mary and Joseph find a place to spend the night.

On the last night, the procession is admitted to the house in which a Christmas crib with a manger has been set up. The group of guests in the procession enter the “Inn” and kneel around the Nativity scene to pray – typically the Rosary. In many places refreshments and caroling have been made a part of the evening’s ceremonies in all nine houses. In some places, the final location may be a church instead of a home where Mass can be celebrated. This rich cultural and traditional re-enactment of the Holy Family’s pilgrimage brings to life for many the true meaning of Christmas.

We hope you can sample some of these things and experience Christmas in Mesilla, New Mexico for yourself. Feliz Navidad!