MUSCATINE, Iowa — Living in Muscatine, Iowa, the Rev. Edgar Solis is far from his homeland of Mexico, but the Christmas traditions he grew up with have not left his heart or home.
Solis, pastor of the San Pablo Hispanic Ministry at Muscatine’s Fellowship United Methodist Musserville Worship Center, will relive those memories this year when he and his wife and children travel to nearby Iowa City to celebrate Las Posadas which in Spanish translates to “the inns,” with other families from Mexico.
Solis, 42, said he and his wife, Laura, 38, who came to Iowa in 2008, grew up in Mexico and value their culture and its traditions. They want their children David, 15, Joshua, 14 and Denalayn, 11, to grow up learning about the meaning of those customs as they celebrate the holiday season.
Las Posados lasts from Dec. 16 through Christmas Eve and can be celebrated anytime during those days.
In Iowa City, the Solises will join other families in celebrating the traditional form of Las Posados, where some people remain outside a house and ask to come inside, depicting Bible stories that describe Joseph and Mary traveling to Bethlehem and asking for a place for Mary to deliver the baby Jesus.
“The Bible says Joseph and Mary went to different places to ask for a room,” said Solis.
The symbolic ritual often includes the singing of a Bible-based song with the people outside the house asking to come in.
“People will come out of the house and sing as a response,” said Solis. “The people outside are accepted at the inn and the baby Jesus can be born. Then everyone goes in the house and has a party.”
Solis said the party includes special foods including main dishes made with pork and turkey, punch made from real fruit and desserts. A paper mache pinata decorated with tissue paper and filled with candy and small gifts is whacked by the children until candy and gifts spill out.
Although people in the various Latin countries share the common language of Spanish, the Christmas customs vary, said Solis, whose congregation members hail from Cuba, Puerto Rico and Mexico.
Many people in Central and South America, where U.S. influence is minimal, give gifts to their children on Jan. 6, echoing the Bible’s references to the gifts the wise men or Magi brought to the baby Jesus in the days after his birth.
“It teaches that as the Magi gave gifts to baby Jesus, parents give gifts to their own children,” said Solis.
Many third-and fourth-generation South American families who have come to the United States have adopted the custom of telling their children Santa Claus brings the gifts, said Solis.
In Mexico and South America, the nativity, which is a manger scene with figures representing Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, the Magi and angels, is a very important part of a family’s Christmas tradition, said Solis.
“Many families have very large nativities that they will put in their living rooms or yards,” said Solis. “Some people put their nativity at the base of their Christmas tree.”
What Solis misses most about being in Mexico for the holidays is gathering with his own extended family and enjoying the different foods everyone prepared.
His family members represent both the Catholic and Protestant faiths, said Solis, and the people in his family show respect for one another’s religious practices.
A strong Catholic tradition, said Solis, is the laying down of the baby Jesus figure in the nativity, a custom in which his extended family participates during their Christmas gatherings.