Tonight I attended the 50th annual Las Posadas Gala Dinner, a scholarship fundraiser sponsored by the Sembradores de la Amistad, San Antonio Chapter. As it has been the last four years I’ve attended, it was a festive affair with the entrance of the Sembradores members in procession singing Silent Night led by Mariachi La Familia, followed by a couple representing Mary and Joseph and a couple of children dressed as angels and three dressed as shepherds. I shared the dinner table with the Charles Gómez family, the grandparents and parents of two of the children. Also at the table was the Bosquez family-Juan and Alice and their son and daughter-in-law. (It is truly a small world, Alice and Charles both grew up in Beeville and their families knew each other, but they had never met–Alice’s cousin Bertha was my colleague until she retired two years ago–El destino!) Last year, I was with Enrique and Yolanda Flores and their friends, the Saenz family. it seems that last year all I could talk about was my upcoming walk on El Camino. In fact, I did the same at a dinner hosted by Tomas Ybarra Frausto and Dudley during the American Studies Association conference–Tomas asked each guest what projects we were working on, and all I could talk about was the Camino. I must’ve been insufferably boring! But, here I am a year later, and all I have been talking about is the Camino, about this blog on the Camino; I keep inviting people to the talk I am giving on Wednesday at UTSA–“Walking the Path: El Camino de Santiago.”
Posadas and Pastorelas aren’t much celebrated in Spain anymore, but I discovered different rituals and celebrations during the Camino. There, as in much of the Americas, the religious celebrations have transformed into mostly social events. But as a child, I remember how anxious we were for Santa Clos and for Los Reyes Magos to come bearing gifts, even when the gifts were nothing more than some fruit or a pair of slippers my mother had knitted. Around mid-December, we began practicing for the school Christmas Program, coinciding with the start of the Posadas on December 16. I recall that the celebrations—even those at school—were mostly religious. For Las Posadas different families in San Luis Rey Church would volunteer to host the party. The Posadas happened in church; the Pastorelas, or Shepherds’ Plays, happened in the community with almost no contact with the church; it was just the neighbors getting together; these were long all-night dramas that began at sunset on Christmas Eve and ended at sunrise with holy mass. In most homes it was a shortened version, the “Acostar al Niño” that included a lullaby to the Christ Child and of course the festive foods, maybe even the singing of the Posadas. Nowadays the celebrations are mainly social in nature whether it be in Mexico or in Greater Mexico, as Américo Paredes referred to the parts of the United States with a Mexican population. So, the Sembradores Posada tradition, while retaining some vestiges of the religious origin, is more akin to the social event with the requisite piñata and dance.
In 1979, I first went to Spain under a Fulbright fellowship that paid me to study the origins of the Pastorelas, the subject of my dissertation. I was familiar with a number of Christmas celebrations in Laredo but found them missing in Spain, save for the “pesebres” or “Belenes” which we call “nacimientos.” Researching the Pastorelas I soon realized would entail working in the manuscripts and rare books collections at the Biblioteca Nacional. I spent many hours poring over these documents and indeed found texts from the fourteenth century that seemed to be the precursors of the texts that had found their way to folk Catholic traditions in South Texas. Not surprising, I heard about other folk traditions in Spain before I ever set foot there; David Gitlitz whom I mentioned earlier first told me about el Misterio de Elche, the Christmas play that only happens every 10 years; he and Linda Davidson told me about Santiago and el Camino.
So tonight, I reminisce about the days before walking el Camino and realize that I am a different person; I am a year older, yes, but I am also a changed person. I can truly say that I see life with different eyes. Just as those holiday celebrations of my youth now seem to belong to another life, another person, who I was a year ago seems to be a different person living a different life. El Camino didn’t directly influence the way I experienced the Sembradores’ Posada tonight, but it gave me a different vantage point. As I sat there enjoying the 1940s dance music by a group from Austin, Nash Hernandez, Jr. and his orchestra, I kept thinking of those who are walking under the stars tonight, of the many who are walking the various Caminos to Santiago hoping to be there by Christmas. Every child that is born begins the walk of life the same way, with a first breath, alone and dependent on others for survival. But not everyone experiences the same joys and sorrows; no two persons experience life in exactly the same way. Thus it is with the Camino, everyone begins the same way, with a first step. But not everyone walks it in just the same way; no two pilgrims suffer or rejoice in exactly the same way.