We had spent the day shopping in the capital city, and didn't start that long drive home until late in the afternoon. As we descended from the high peaks of the cordillera about 9:00 P.M. we came into Totonicapán, a Mayan Village with cobblestone streets. It was nice to get away from the dusty dirt road for a little while, even though the stones were quite rough, but it meant we were getting closer to home. The kids were asleep in the back seat, but suddenly they were awakened by a large procession marching along the main street filled with people. The people were all dressed in their Mayan costumes and marching along very slowly carrying a statue of Mary and Joseph on their shoulders. Even with the windows closed against the cold mountain night air, we could hear their native drums made from hollow tree trunks and sheep skins. One man played his homemade bamboo flute. They chanted weird tunes developed over the centuries by their Mayan culture. A strange hollow sound, which is characteristic of the posada, was the clicking sound from the striking of a turtle shell.
Of course they didn't move over for a lonely car, for this was a very important occasion, so we just followed along. The posada consists of villagers carrying a statue of Joseph and Mary on their shoulders and chanting that they are looking for a place for the baby Jesus to be born. This religious custom is taken from the story of Jesus being born in a manger.
And Joseph went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that while they were there the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. Luke 2:4-7 (KJV, italics added)
This is the setting for the posadas. The men carried a platform with the life size statues of the sacred couple, and called out at every home, "Does anyone have room for Joseph and Mary, a place where they can spend the night, where the baby Jesus can be born?" They stopped at several houses and asked, "Is there room for the baby Jesus here?" No one seemed to have a place for Him. After about 15 minutes, they arrived at a pre-selected home and the owners ran out and invited Joseph and Mary to come in. They had room in their home! Room for the parents of Jesus and a place for Jesus to be born. They invited those carrying the statues, as well as the whole crowd, into their home. We probably would have been welcome too, but didn't ask because we wanted to get home.
But that is when the whole event lost its sacred significance. The statues were placed in a dark corner with one lighted candle, no longer important and completely ignored. The table was set with tamales wrapped in banana leaves, which is a great delicacy and eaten with bread and coffee and replaces the regular menu of tortillas and black beans. Lots of festivities followed with heavy drinking and partying. The poor holy couple and their son Jesus were inconvenient and pushed off into a dark corner. It didn't take long for our children to comment that it didn't seem to them that there was any room for Jesus at that Posada.
Now the road had cleared and we were on our way. As we drove home, the chorus that we used to sing in Christian Endeavor came to our minds, and we sang it together as we drove off into the lonely night, "Into my heart, into my heart, come into my heart, Lord Jesus. Come in today, come in to stay, come into my heart, Lord Jesus."