A couple of months ago (2016), my church asked me to plan a Posadas Christmas Pageant. Wahoo – this was going to be fun! And it was, but not in the way I was expecting…not at all
For those who are not familiar, The Posadas is a Christmas pageant of Latin America. In it, parishioners and villagers parade, singing carols through the town, walking toward the church, behind Mary and Joseph. Along the way, the two travelers knock on several doors, and each home rejects them as the crowd jeers. It is a pageant of solidarity and support. “We are the people,” the crowd seems to chant, “we would have taken you.”…maybe you’re starting to see the problem. As I started my research, I knew almost immediately – we can’t celebrate this pageant, not in this way, not with a large group of Anglo Americans.
I was watching, heart in my hand, as Donald Trump wrapped up his campaign for presidency, politicizing the migrant crisis with chants like, “build a wall,” and “keep them out.” Over the past year, I had been called an idiot and naive by family for remembering refugees in the mealtime prayer. I had received a letter of reproach from our Senator for publicly supporting the admission of Guatemalan minors into our state. I had spent weeks in the summer culling hate mail out of my inbox after I relayed the facts of a proposed resettlement in baldwin county, adjacent to my family’s land, to a community bulletin. For weeks, I was sent accusations of my ignorance and self-loathing, not-so-subtle reminders that these brown people would take our rights and ruin our schools, that our playgrounds would become drug-lots, that my backyard would soon be a haven for gang violence. I watched as the yards of my dearest friends and family filled with signs of support for Trump, a man who provoked and capitalized on unfounded fears about terrorism and rape – who meant to make us too afraid to have faith, too deaf to hear the gospel, and too blind to see the holy family.
At the time of Trump’s tweet a total of 2,200 out of the 4.8 million Syrian refugees had been admitted to the US since the conflict began in 2011. A whopping 67% of applicants for Obamas meager 2016 goal of 10,000 are children under the age of 12. My heart was broken – it remains broken. For my friends and I, it is as though the generation who raised us to be a voice of compassion, were refusing to see Christ in the face of the other. Confronted with our tears and unrest, our parents chose silence over curiosity, unable to tolerate or express even the idea of faith-driven hospitality – a hurt so deep I know I will never recover.
After much prayer and a tentative admission to my priest about my concerns, it became quite clear that we needed to design a pageant that would surely feature knocking and doors. But when those doors opened, it needed to be us on the inside, and them on the out. We needed to use the Posada rhythms to forge a way toward realization, repentance, and invitation. We also needed to leave room for subtlety, we needed to extend grace to those who hadn’t seen the Holy Family through this lens before. Mercy and not shame were our goals. This would not be easy.
So we started trudging forward. It would be three acts, one for rejection, one for repentance, and one for welcome. The door would open and close once on the posada icon. The door would then be opened on the cross before the final litany – which would be read from the audience, an offering of sacrificial welcoming to the unknown other, in faith that Christ’s call of radical hospitality is worth following. Click the link below or the picture above for a PDF of the liturgical script with direction prompts.
What a gift – this book! A perfect companion to Tomie De Paola’s The Night of Las Posadas, or as a stand-alone introduction to the reality of Refugees. The illustrations are absolutely bananas, and the words are pointed and perfect. Without being too much, or overwhelming, this story is told simply, from the perspective of a migrant child, fleeing war. It create sympathy in adults and empathy in children. The questions it leaves unanswered allow for fruitful and important conversations. This book has my full support. If I could hang it on my wall I would. I want prints from it. I want to give it to all of my friends…and I just may.
The reason I chose to feature this book review with this liturgy is simply this: The purpose of our “pageant” is to ground the Christmas Story in a reality that is close to home. We wanted to take the narrative away from the great catholic commissions of the renaissance, and allow the heart to open a little more to the stranger beside us right this instant.
I am Mary. 14 years old, A political refugee, shameful to my family and my betrothed.
Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Caravaggio – they gave you someone to celebrate – white-faced, pristine, and lovely. But that is not me. I am the one you despise. It is into an oppressed and terrified body that the God became flesh. Logos into chaos. Filthy, the dust of war on my face, The savior in my belly.
I think we miss the gospel…because it looks too much like the cover of Newsweek, and not enough like the art in our museums.