Monday, December 22, 2014

Las Posadas and the Welcoming Innkeeper

David Gayes currently serves as an English Language teacher at the Tolton Center in Chicago. He also serves at Casa Juan Diego, an after school program.

I love the Mexican tradition during the fourth week of Advent called Las Posadas. “Las Posadas” literally means “the inns.” During the nine days leading up to Christmas, through music and song, communities reenact the story of Mary and Joseph looking for a place to stay. Two people dress up as Joseph and Mary, who often rides on a donkey, and look for an innkeeper to take them in for the night. Every member of the community takes a part in the story, singing the dialogue between Joseph and Mary and the innkeepers. The people who sing the part of Joseph and Mary remain outside, walking from house to house while the people who play the different innkeepers are inside, rejecting them. In the last of many exchanges between the groups, Mary and Joseph are finally given a place to stay for the night, and everyone enters the “inn” for a lively celebration.

Image of a traditional "Las Posadas" celebration. 
(Photo from

Here is a link to Las Posadas sung in Spanish, with Spanish subtitles: 

English Translation:

Mary and Joseph:
In the name of Heaven
I beg you for lodging,
for she cannot walk
my beloved wife.          
                                                       This is not an inn 
                                                       so keep going 
                                                       I cannot open 
                                                      you may be a rogue.
Mary and Joseph:
Don't be inhuman;
Have mercy on us.
The God of the heavens
will reward you for it.
                                                       You can go on now 
                                                       and don't bother us, 
                                                       because if I become annoyed 
                                                       I'll give you a trashing.
Mary and Joseph:
We are worn out
coming from Nazareth.
I am a carpenter,
Joseph by name.
                                                       I don't care about your name: 
                                                       Let me sleep, 
                                                       because I already told you 
                                                       we shall not open up.
Mary and Joseph:
I'm asking you for lodging
dear man of the house
Just for one night
for the Queen of Heaven.
                                                       Well, if it's a queen 
                                                       who solicits it, 
                                                       why is it at night 
                                                       that she travels so alone?
Mary and Joseph:
My wife is Mary
She's the Queen of Heaven
and she's going to be the mother
of the Divine Word.
                                                       Are you Joseph? 
                                                       Your wife is Mary? 
                                                       Enter, pilgrims; 
                                                       I did not recognize you.
Mary and Joseph:
May God pay, gentle folks,
your charity,
and thus heaven heap
happiness upon you.
                                                       Blessed is the house 
                                                       that shelters this day 
                                                       the pure Virgin, 
                                                       the beautiful Mary.

Everyone in unison:
Enter, holy pilgrims,
receive this corner,
for though this dwelling is poor,
I offer it with all my heart.                                       

Oh, graced pilgrim,
oh, most beautiful Mary.
I offer you my soul
so you may have lodging.              

Humble pilgrims,
Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
I give my soul for them
And my heart as well.              

Let us sing with joy,
all bearing in mind
that Jesus, Joseph and Mary
honor us by having come.

I am moved by the joyful welcoming of Joseph and Mary in the Las Posadas tradition. After being rejected many times, Joseph and Mary finally encounter an innkeeper who accepts them and recognizes the beauty of their situation. The final innkeeper welcomes them unconditionally and commits to offer himself to help them.

“I give my soul for them
And my heart as well.
Let us sing with joy”

He does not turn them away, but rather welcomes the strangers, offering a place to spend the night.

I can relate to this final innkeeper in my year of service with Dominican Volunteers USA. I teach English as a second language with the Tolton Center in Chicago. The people with whom I serve are strangers to the United States and to American culture. Many have been rejected—some having only recently arrived in the United States, while others have been here for a while. They have a desire to not just survive, but to thrive. They want to help their kids get into good high schools and colleges. They want to learn English, so they can understand their bosses’ directions and move forward in their place of employment. They seek to make American friends, understand American culture, and become full, active United States citizens.

David (center) with coworkers Ana and Peggy (left) and three English language students.

Our job at Tolton is to be welcoming innkeepers. We offer free classes and accept anyone who wants to learn, regardless of immigration status. We strive to create a warm, fun, nonthreatening environment with many games and activities. We try to respect every student as an individual with his or her own story and personal goals. We seek to create a place where no individual who wants to learn English will be turned away.

I am grateful for the people at Tolton for modeling for me the role of a hospitable innkeeper. I am thankful for my clients who openly and enthusiastically share their stories. I am appreciative of Dominican Volunteers USA for giving me this amazing opportunity.

In this Christmas Season may we learn to be welcoming innkeepers, giving our hearts and souls in service to the strangers in our midst. 

David's student shares pictures of her grandchildren. David helps her 
learn English so she can communicate with them. 

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