A brightly colored pinata is a focal point of a children's La Posada celebration.
A brightly colored pinata is a focal point of a children's La Posada celebration.

The tradition of Las Posadas, brought to Mexico and Latin America from Spain, is a religious observance of the trials that Joseph and Mary underwent as they sought shelter in Bethlehem. During Las Posadas, the participants recreate the scenario for nine nights, from December 16 to December 24. Depending on local traditions, each night may feature a small gathering or a larger party, with the largest celebration on Christmas Eve, usually followed by midnight Mass and dinner.

First, Las Posadas

Each evening, those who wish to participate in Las Posadas gather at a prearranged site. Everyone carries candles, but for safety's sake, children should hold battery-operated candles. In some traditions, children also dress as angels and shepherds. Two of the participants, dressed as Mary and Joseph, lead the group to several homes. At three homes, they sing, begging for admittance to la posada, or the inn. At the first two homes, they are turned away. Finally, at the last home and site of the party, the group is accepted inside, and, after they pray at the Nativity scene, the celebration begins.

Decorate the Garden and Patio

Some of the traditional Las Posadas decorations have migrated into Christmas decor, including red poinsettias and luminarias, or luminaries, to light the traveler's path. Arrange luminarias next to the walk and around the patio in the backyard. Flank doorways with masses of potted poinsettias. Add twinkle lights in the trees overhead to add more light to a starlit sky. Hang a seven-pointed pinata star from a tree or rafter; it represents the seven deadly sins and, once it's beaten into submission with a stick by a blindfolded partygoer, rewards everyone with the sweet treats hidden inside.

Arrange the Party Room

Inside the home, arrange the traditional Nativity in a prominent location. The Christ child is not added to the scene until the La Posada on Christmas Eve. A Christmas tree, decorated in a variety of metallic ornaments, Christmas lights, silver garlands, and topped with a star is also a feature in many traditional homes. Add more poinsettias around the perimeter of the room along with comfortable chairs and small tables for drinks and snacks. Play your favorite Christmas carols and Latin music, or hire a mariachi band to entertain your guests.

Serve Traditional Foods

Arrange a buffet filled with traditional foods, including: homemade tortillas, tamales, chiles rellenos, roast pig, menudo, posoli, bunuelos and other Mexican and Latin American favorites. Serve Mexican hot chocolate and atole to children, while adults enjoy sangria, ponche con piquete fruit punch and special beers brewed for the Christmas season, such as nocha buena. End the evening with a toast to the Holy Family and a fireworks display -- but only if they're legal in your area.