In her 17 years in Philadelphia, Reyna Guadalupe Navarro had never held a traditional Mexican posada at her South Philadelphia home. The native of Chiapas had been invited in previous years by other Puebla-born residents in the city to attend the potluck tradition — also practiced in Central America — that takes place nine days before Christmas. But this year, the pandemic motivated Navarro to organize her own.
In June, Navarro became one of the founding members of Mercado de Latinas, a collective of 22 Hispanic women from Mexico and Central America who sell arts and crafts produced or imported from their countries of origin. The group came together after most members lost their jobs in housekeeping and the restaurant industry earlier in the pandemic. The collective has had difficulties finding a permanent space to sell their goods after weeks of holding markets at the Capitolo Playground in South Philadelphia.
A posada was a way for Navarro and her group to celebrate their accomplishments and to honor traditions.
With less than two weeks to spare, Navarro took sculptures of Joseph and Mary to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church to bless them. Her husband, Agustín Arroyo, built a small wooden hut for the nativity scene. She bought a seven peaks piñata, hung Christmas lights, and decorated a white tree at her garage, where guests would sit safely, pray, and request the posada — which recreates Joseph and Mary’s search for a place to stay and the birth of Jesus.
“We know that things are not looking good with COVID again, so we are joyful to be alive, and to be in this together, in sisterhood,” Navarro said.
The group’s first posada is one of a series of holiday celebrations that Latinos usually organize starting at the end of October through mid-January, most of which members didn’t get to celebrate last year: an aguinaldo with dozens of people who surprise you at midnight or 2 a.m., playing merengue with drums and güira, or an hours-long parranda, to dance salsa, catch up, and drink coquito.
Like Navarro, other Latino residents expressed gratitude for getting a chance to celebrate together and in-person. Maria Rodríguez, a Northeast resident from Puerto Rico, attended the Latin American Christmas Carols event at the Church of the Crucifixion on Sunday.
Rodríguez, a member of the choir, said the gathering was essential for Latinos in Philly. “This moment is of great significance to us, because last year was very depressing,” she said.
At the church, the choir sang holiday standards, such as “El burrito de Belén” by the Venezuelan composer Hugo Blanco Manzo, “¡Feliz Navidad!” by Puerto Rico’s José Feliciano, and “Ven a mi casa esta Navidad” by Argentinian singer-song writer Luis Aguilé.
Angie Mederos-Gallelli, from South Philly, said the celebration took her back to her days in Venezuela, when she used to spend Christmas with family and loved ones.
“To spend time with people who can sing your songs, in your language, understand your culture and the fact that you were forced to migrate and grow separate from your people, is beautiful,” she said. “And it gives us hope, the only thing we have during these times.”