Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

Las Posadas

Las Posadas -- the word means "Inns" -- is a hundreds of years-old Advent tradition cherished in Spain, in  Mexico and other Latin American countries, and in North America where immigrants from those countries are prevalent.  It's a sort of dramatic re-enactment of the journey Joseph and Mary made to Bethlehem, seeking a place to stay, but being turned away until they finally found shelter where animals were kept. It takes place over the course of nine nights, the length of a novena -- from December 16 to Christmas Eve (Noche Buena in Spanish).

Nine houses (or eight houses and a church) are chosen in advance. Then, each night, a couple dressed as Joseph and Mary -- often with Mary on a donkey -- are accompanied by musicians and followers -- some of them bearing candles, torches, or religious figurines, some dressed as shepherds or angels -- as they visit one of the houses. Once this group -- the peregrinos -- arrives at the evening's designated house, they have a dramatic exchange in plaintive song with the people on the inside -- the posaderos -- who represent Bethlehem's inn-keepers. The posaderos first reject the peregrinos, and then finally offer them a place to stay.

Once the peregrinos are admitted, everyone sings the final verses together with a different melody and a changed, upbeat tempo, and then a party is had: traditional foods are eaten (tamales, bunuelos, chocolate, biscochitos -- a cinnamon and anise-flavored shortbread cookie, etc.), songs are sung, and a pinata in the shape of a seven-pointed star is smashed open by the children present. The star represents the star that guided the Magi; its seven points represent the seven deadly sins, and the stick used to smash it open is symbolic of virtue. The blindfold that the children wear while hitting the pinata is said to represent faith, and the candies that come pouring out are symbolic of God's graces raining down on us.

On the last night, a church instead of a home might be visited, with Mass following (some attend Mass on each night). And note that in some places, the peregrinos are refused each night but the last, and it's only then that a party takes place.

Below, you'll find the melody, lyrics (which may vary a little; the singers in the mp3 skip verses 5-8 below), and sheet music for the sung exchange, the traditional version of which is called La Canción Para Pedir Posada (The Song to Ask for Lodging). You can download the sheet music in pdf format, and you can download lyrics as well in pdf format, in either Spanish, or in Spanish with an English translation. I made the font a tad large so the text can be easily read in darkened doorways, and more easily shared by a few people:

La Canción Para Pedir Posada

En el nombre del cielo
os pido posada
pues no puede andar
mi esposa amada.

Aquí no es mesón,
sigan adelante
Yo no debo abrir,
no sea algún tunante.

No seas inhumano,
tennos caridad,
que el Dios de los cielos
te lo premiará.

Ya se pueden ir
y no molestar
porque si me enfado
os voy a apalear.

Venimos rendidos
desde Nazaret,
yo soy carpintero
de nombre José.

No me importa el nombre,
déjenme dormir,
pues que yo les digo
que nos hemos de abrir.

Posada te pide,
amado casero,
por sólo una noche
la Reina del Cielo.

Pues si es una reina
quien lo solicita,
¿cómo es que de noche
anda tan solita?

Mi esposa es María,
es Reina del Cielo
y madre va a ser
del Divino Verbo.

¿Eres ú José?
¿Tu esposa es María?
Entren, peregrinos,
no los conocía.

Dios pague, señores,
vuestra caridad,
y que os colme el cielo
de felicidad.

¡Dichosa la casa
que alberga este día
a la Viren pura.
la hermosa María!

Entren, Santos peregrinos, peregrinos
reciban este rincón,
que aunque es pobre la morada, la morada
os la doy de corazón.

Oh, peregrina agraciada, agraciada
 oh, bellísima María.
Yo te ofrezco el alma mía, alma mía
para que tengáis posada.

Humildes peregrinos, peregrinos
Jesús, María y José,
el alma doy por ellos, doy por ellos
mi corazón también.

Cantemos con alegría, alegría
todos al considerar
que Jesús, José y María, y María
nos vinieron a honrar.
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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

After the singing comes the food! A few recipes for the Posadas celebrations:

Tamales Rojos (makes 30 or so)

3 (8 ounce) packages dried corn husks (you need around 35)
4-5 lbs chuck roast
1 onion
1 head of garlic
3 bay leaves
1 tsp whole black pepper
1 tsp all spice
2 tbsp salt
5 whole cloves

20 New Mexico chiles or guajillo chiles
3 ancho chiles
12 tomatillos
7 garlic cloves
1 1/2 tsp cumin

Masa (dough):
6 cups instant corn masa for tamales
5 cups beef broth
1 1/2 cup lard
5 tsp baking powder

Soak your corn husks in a bowl of warm water until softened, about 4 hours (or overnight).

Place meat, onion, garlic, bay leaves, pepper, allspice, salt, cloves in a Dutch oven. Add enough water to cover and bring to a boil, with lid on. Reduce heat to low and simmer until meat is cooked through, about 2 hours.

While the meat is cooking. broil the chiles until they're charred and the skin starts peeling and cracking. Then place the chiles along with the tomatillos in a saucepan with water to cover. Simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let it cool a bit. Transfer chiles and 4 cups of their cooking water to a blender, add the garlic and cumin, and blend until smooth. Pour this mixture into a skillet and let it simmer on very low heat.

When the meat is done, take it out of the pot and pour the broth it's formed into measuring cups. You need 5 cups of broth (if you need more liquid, use canned or bouillon-made broth to make up for what you lack). Now take a cup of the chile sauce from the skillet and add it to the broth. You want 6 cups of liquid total. Set this liquid aside for a moment until you make the masa.

Shred the meat with a couple of forks. Then add the remaining chile sauce from the skillet to the shredded meat and mix.

Make the masa: Beat the lard until creamy and fluffy, for about 5 minutes. Mix in the baking powder, 1 cup of masa, and about 1/4 cup of the broth. Mix on low speed, adding more masa (1 cup at a time) with broth alternately. Once all the masa and broth have been added, mix at a higher speed for a long time -- about 15 minutes -- until you're able to drop a bit (a teaspoonful) of the masa into a glass of water and it floats.

Form the tamales: Pat the husks dry. To form a tamale, place a husk smooth-side up in front of you. Arrange the husk so the wide side is at the bottom and the pointy side is at the top. Spread about a golfball-sized bit of masa on the bottom 3/4 of the husk so it's about 1/8 of an inch thick and spread all the way across. Top with meat, spreading it in a line down the center of the dough. Fold over one long side of the husk about 1/3 over dough and filling, then fold in the other long side, overlapping the first as if you're folding a business letter to put in an envelope. Fold down the top -- the pointy end (some tie it in place using a piece of husk or twine, but you really don't need to if it's folded correctly) -- and place the tamale in your steamer basket so it's standing with the folded end down and open end up. Don’t over-pack the steamer; load the stearmer just tightly enough to keep tamales in an upright position.

Put water in your steamer so it'll almost reach the bottom of your steamer basket. Turn the burner on to medium heat and get the water hot. Put your steamer basket full of tamales in your steamer, cover the steamer, and steam the tamales -- checking the water level periodically so your steamer doesn't run dry -- for about 2 to 3 hours. To test tamales for doneness, take the biggest one and try to peel the husk off: if it comes off cleanly, they're done.

You can freeze tamales. Just let them thaw in the fridge overnight to use. They're good fried up in a bit of bacon fat.

Chile de Arbol Salsa

2 tomatoes, de-stemmed
20 chiles de arbol
1 cup of fresh cilantro, chopped
1/3 cup water
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. oregano

Broil tomatoes until charred. Broil chiles until charred. Put everything in a blender. Serve with chips (or over eggs, tamales, most anything savory).


3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons ground anise
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound lard, softened
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1 large egg
2 tablespoons sweet white wine, brandy, rum, apple juice, or pineapple juice
1/4 cup sugar + 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon for the topping

Sift together the flour, baking powder, anise, and salt and set aside.

Beat the lard in an electric mixer, gradually adding the sugar, and beat until fluffy and light, about 8 minutes, scraping down the bowl as you go (don't shortcut this step). Add the egg, followed by the wine, and continue beating. To this, add in the dry ingredients, adding about one-third of the mixture at a time. Stop the mixer as you make each addition, and beat no longer than necessary to incorporate the dry ingredients (the dough will be stiff, like a pie crust dough).

Chill the dough for about 15 minutes for easy handling. Preheat the oven to 350.

Roll out the dough 1/4-inch thick on a floured work surface and cut into shapes. Avoid handling the dough any more than necessary. Transfer the cookies to ungreased cookie sheets. Bake the cookies for 10 to 12 minutes, until just set and pale golden. Cool for a minute or two, then dunk the tops in cinnamon-sugar mixture while still warm.


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