December 16th—nine days until the celebration of Christmas.
In south Texas, it is the time for the celebration de las Posadas. The neighbors gather together, children are dressed up as Joseph and a pregnant Mary and the crowd walks through the streets, praying and singing, until they arrive at a designated home.
And then there is silence.
Which is broken by a sharp rapping at the door with Joseph’s walking stick.
The crowd breaks into a mournful tune that has words that are centuries old, marked by that bitter and desperate sentiment especially familiar to anyone who has ever been without a place to pass the night.
The people in the street sing in Joseph’s name, “In the name of heaven, I ask you for shelter; my beloved wife is exhausted.”
The family, behind a locked door, respond, “Does this look like a hotel to you? I am not opening up, you might be a thief!”
Joseph insists, as the crowd outside sings, “Please, just for tonight! After all, she is the Queen of Heaven!”
To which the family chants, “Yeah, right, if she is a queen, what is she doing looking for shelter at this hour?”
In the end, of course, the family recognizes Mary and Joseph for who they are and open up their home to these pilgrims, and to their neighbors.
There is hot chocolate, and a special bread that has been fried and coated in sugar, and, if we are lucky, tamales.
The smaller kids line up for a piñata; the older ones slouch against the wall and text each other, acting bored, although only after they have had their hot chocolate and tamales.
In time, people drift off—there is still school tomorrow and, of course, work, there is always work.
But tomorrow night—we will gather again, this time to walk to someone else’s home, and once again, retracing the steps of those pilgrims from millennia ago.
Many in the crowd would have made the same sort of journey, would have likewise knocked on a stranger’s door, and many of them would know the humiliation of being refused shelter.
A surprising number, though, would have known the blessing to have been offered a warm place to sleep, to have been served tamales and chocolate, in the middle of the night, in a strange land.
As if they were in the company of the Queen of Heaven.