One of the great gifts of the Catholic Church is that its universality allows the mysteries of the faith to be expressed in endless ways in the beauty of different cultures. We see this perhaps most readily in traditions of visual art, but we also see it in the traditions of devotional prayer and popular (as in “of the people”) piety that have developed in particular parts of the world. The season of Lent and Holy Week has given rise to numerous beautiful practices: think of how many different ways one can pray the Stations of the Cross, for example. This practice encompasses a broad range of possibilities—from meditating as a community on Christ’s Passion in a parish church with Scripture, poetry, and music, to staging a full re-enactment of Jesus’ journey to Calvary in a performance of “Living Stations of the Cross” with actors, costumes, and props.
Una de las celebraciones más importantes y memorables de mi niñez en México fue el 6 de enero, la Epifanía del Señor. Claro que en ese tiempo yo ni siquiera sabía cómo se le llamaba. Todo lo que yo sabía era que, en la noche del 5 de enero, yo corría por todo el pueblo de casa en casa de mis abuelitos, padrinos, tíos y tías, y claro, en la casa de mis padres, y dejaba un zapato para que los Santos Reyes vinieran y se acordaran de dejarme un regalo. Era el Día de los Reyes, el día más feliz para cualquier niño que solo recibía juguetes una vez al año. Aún hoy en día, puedo cerrar mis ojos y verme a mí mismo, a mis hermanos, a mis hermanas, y a cada niño de mi pueblo corriendo para arriba y para abajo de la calle con nuestros juguetes nuevos.
One of the most important and memorable celebrations of my childhood in Mexico was January 6, the Epiphany of the Lord. Of course, back then, I did not know that’s what it was called. All I knew was that on the evening of January 5, I would run around town and go to the houses of my grandparents, godparents, aunts and uncles, and of course, my parents, and leave a shoe so that the wise men would come and remember to leave me a gift. It was Día de los Reyes, the happiest day for a young boy who only got toys once a year. Even now, I can still close my eyes and see myself, my brothers, my sisters, and every single kid in town running up and down the street with our new toys.
Take a moment to visualize the Nativity scene that was in your home as a child. Try to see it through your childhood eyes once again. What do you see? Do you remember that sense of wonder as you look at that familiar figurine of baby Jesus in the manger?
The Catholic faith has many traditions that are beautiful and deep, full of teaching and evangelization. I was lucky enough to be born and raised in Mexico, and there I learned about my faith through such traditions. For example, Las Posadas is a celebration that has lots to teach us about the Catholic faith. The celebrations last nine days, starting on December 16 and running until Christmas Eve—this way a novena is prayed. During these nine days, there is a procession from the town’s parish to a street where a manger is set up. A leader from each street organizes all the people that live on that street, and everyone works together to set up the manger, cook the food, decorate the street, make the piñatas, and buy candy for all the kids in town. The leader also chooses a boy and a girl to dress as Joseph and Mary, and another boy or girl to be an angel. Mary rides on a donkey led by Joseph from the parish to the manger, followed by all the town kids dressed as shepherds. The parish priest leads the Rosary, songs, and rituals, with the whole town following. Las Posadas serves as spiritual exercises in preparation for the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. The procession is then followed by celebration, as the kids break piñatas, sing songs, and play games.