Las Posadas "The Lodgings (or Accomodations)" is a nine-day ceremony, "novenario", culminating on Christmas Eve which depicts the search for lodging that Joseph and Mary undertook immediately prior to the birth of Jesus. The nine days depicts the nine months of Mary’s pregnancy.
This ceremony originated in Spain but now is practiced primarily in Guatemala, Mexico and the southwest U.S. Each night a procession featuring Mary, riding on a donkey, Joseph, musicians and various onlookers travel from house to house seeking shelter for the night. At each place they are refused until they reach a designated location where they are welcomed and given shelter. The procession then enters the residence and prays the rosary. This is followed by a meal which is served to all participants.
In the Rio Arriba valley in northern New Mexico the ceremony is held in a different community each night and the local church is the final destination for the procession. These evenings are typically quite cold, especially in the communities nestled in and around the Sangre de Cristo mountains. On Christmas Eve, the final night of Las Posadas, the procession is welcomed at El Santuario where they observe midnight mass and are given refreshments to celebrate the season.