Our Community - "Los Pastores and Los Posadas"
A Christmas Tradition

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 11, No. 49            December 13, 2001

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With only eleven more days until Christmas, the San Pedro Sun, in the true spirit of the holidays, features the following in the hopes of sharing some wonderful Christmas traditions celebrated in "Our Community." We invite you to travel back to a time when "Los Pastores" was an occasion anticipated by the young and old. We also invite you to join us in "Las Posadas" a ritual that is still observed today. The following information was inspired by the memories of Mrs. Tomasita Gomez.

    In the early 1900s the first residents of San Pedro welcomed Christmas Day with a religious practice on Christmas Eve they called "Los Pastores" (The Shepherds). This was a beautiful and significant occasion for the people of this island and a much anticipated annual tradition. Since there was no resident priest at the time, the Catholic followers would organize and perform this holy event themselves.

    Children were dressed in white robes and wore straw hats to give the impression that they were shepherds. Each child, male or female, was also given a rattle. At 9:00 p.m. a procession would begin, leading to the church, where a manger had been placed in front of the altar. Standing next to the manger the children portrayed the Virgin Mary, her husband Joseph and the Angel Gabriel. Los Pastores would make their way to the church announcing their arrival with the sounds of their rattles and by singing, "A Belen todos, todos coramos-" ("To Bethlehem everyone, everyone run-"). Upon their arrival at the church, the shepherds would form two lines in the center aisle and one by one, each would present their offering to the Baby Jesus. Singing rhyming verses the shepherds presented gifts such as fruits, chicks, firewood, etc. By the time they finished it would be Christmas Day and they would sing Christmas songs rejoicing in the birth of the Christ child. Families would then go home and the children would go straight to bed, to await the arrival of Santa Claus.

    Unfortunately, as San Pedro began to develop into a tourist destination, this traditional Christmas practice began to die out. Approximately thirty years ago, Los Pastores ceased their performances. Nevertheless, not all has been lost. A Christmas tradition that continues today is "Las Posadas."

    "Las Posadas," known mainly as a Mexican Christmas festivity, was introduced in San Pedro in the late 1940s. This yearly event is practiced by faithful Catholics as a show of their devotion to the Virgin Mary. It is a reenactment of the Virgin Mary's quest for lodging (posada) at an inn after the Angel Gabriel gave her the news that she had been chosen as the mother of "Our Savior." Las Posadas is a nine-day celebration commencing on December 16th and ending on December 24th. The "peregrinos," or pilgrims, include children, youth, men and women who start their procession from the church, carrying with them statues of Joseph and Mary. They parade around the town singing hymns until they arrive at a designated house to ask for lodging. Once gathered, a few pilgrims go inside the home and the others remain outside. The group outside sings hymns begging for lodging. Shelter is usually denied at first, but the pilgrims persist until they are allowed to go in. Once inside, the entire gathering joins in prayers and hymns. The host then provides refreshments for the pilgrims. Some of the traditional snacks include cookies, candies, lemonade, cake and occasionally a glass of wine or sherry. For eight more nights the same ritual takes place as Las Posadas stop at different residences. On Christmas Eve, the pilgrims end their quest when they travel to the church and are giving lodging.

    Although, in comparison to years gone by, the amount of participants in Las Posadas has declined, this Catholic tradition still lives on today.

    Join us next week when we will feature more wonderful traditions observed during this holiest of holidays in "Our Community."

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