As is often the case in Mexico City, we hear the party before we see the house. Live music is playing in a driveway wedged in between two homes. The concrete walls create a perfect sound chamber, projecting the music out into the park across the street, throughout the barrio and beyond.
Folding chairs line up along each side of the driveway, which is now a dance floor. The soloist is quite good. A surplus of instruments and assorted sound equipment surrounds him, promising the possibility of a band to come later.
Music infiltrates life in Mexico City - its not always tucked away behind a doorman and cover charge. It's often very well performed; we were treated to a solo by a talented violinist on the Metro once. You hear music in the parks, cafes, metro stations, on trains and microbusses, and of course, at parties.
We follow the music to the house and say hello to our host, a stylish young woman who directs us to seats near the "stage" - there is no possibility of conversation over the music; we divine through sign language her promise to return with a traditional punch drink.
Confession - I usually dread parties filled with new people I don’t know. This is no exception. The crowd is a mixed age group of festive neighborly people. A few couples are dancing, including one couple in their 60s that puts the Dancing with the Stars folks to shame. This is on of my favorite transformations I’ve seen in Mexico - a dignified older couple you might see strolling slowly down the street, arms linked, instantly turns into gyrating sexy dancing machines at a fiesta or, even in some of the city’s parks, where informal dance classes and socials often take place.
As a gringa with two left feet, I’m in awe of the effortless rhythm of most Mexicans. Also on the dance floor is a young girl with her baby brother who can barely walk. She is laughing and pulling him this way and that, he’s loving it and already moving to the beat. So there you have it - Mexicans dance before they can walk.
This also explains the sexy way so many of them move. When you are primed from birth to bust out a salsa at any moment, you live closer to your emotional body. It shows even when you are just walking down the street.
After a bit, the punch shows up - warm and fruity, a traditional concoction of tamarind, hibiscus, dried fruit and garnished with what I thought was a carrot, but is a sliver of real sugar cane. Nature’s original candy cane!
A few minutes later, a larger than life, beautiful flashy woman makes her entrance. She is trailing a stylish fur trimmed cape and a bit of an entourage. It turns out this is Sergio’s comadre. That's Co Madre, not Comrade. Comadres and copadres are adults who are tied together through mutual agreement to watch out for each other’s children. Sort of like godparents.
She is co-hosting the party. The music still makes real conversation impossible but within 5 minutes I’ve figured out that anything I need or want in Mexico is mine, courtesy of her. She proceeds to talk with, introduce around, and dance with every person in the driveway disco, including a couple of men without dates who had been occupying the fringes. I’m in awe of this display of hostess perfection.
After about 2 hours of nonstop music, our solo musician takes a short break. Some of the guests takes over the mic for a few songs in a display of old school karaoke- the whole crowd joins in with cups raised, loud, in and out of tune, no matter.
This party is a Posada, at least in name. A Posada is a re-enactment of the Holy Family's search for lodging as Mary's time drew near. The first Posada I ever went to was in San Antonio many years ago, when my kids were young. We drove from Austin, I had rushed everyone to arrive "on time". We arrived near the Cathedral and no one was there. I was really disappointed, I thought we had missed it. We went to dinner nearby. While we were eating, I saw a crowd gather, the Holy Family came around the corner, riding a golf cart strung with lights and decorations. I laughed with the realization that we were simply early and remembered that starting times are simply a suggestion for many events in the Latin culture.
In Mexico City a traditional Posada starts 9 days before Christmas, in strict observance there is a procession each night. A group of people walk together and knock on doors, asking for lodging. They read verses from traditional prose that is reprinted in small paper folios that seemed to have been designed in 1950. They are sold by the dozen in the mercados at this time of year, alongside all the traditional ingredients for piñatas.
The Posada always ends with a piñata. That’s 9 pinatas a week for most churches, and at least two or three per school, family or neighborhood party. Don't forget the January piñatas for New Year's and Dia de Los Reyes - Three Kings Day.
If you start to do the piñata math, it adds up to a mind boggling exponential demand curve for piñatas during the holidays. From November to January the mercados are filled to the rafters with gravity and fire-code defying assortment of piñatas and mountains of candy, fruit, nuts and small toys for stuffing.
You will see piñatas bristling out of taxis and tied to the tops of vehicles. You'll practice defensive piñata avoidance on the bus so you don't crush your neighbor's piñata (or get your eye poked out) when the bus lurches to a stop. Its colorful, crazy and one of my favorite things about the Mexican spirit in the city this time of year.
Much like Halloween in the US, la gente have adapted the Posada tradition to adult preferences - i.e. a great excuse for a blow out party. Families or neighborhoods might organize one or two Posada parties, and the mix of Posada vs. Par-tay depends on the organizers.
At this party, the music stops for a few minutes, and someone mentions the Posada. When it becomes apparent that the music (and drinking) will not resume until after the Posada observance, the crowd amiably gathers into a clump around a young girl carrying a statue of Joseph. She asks Sergio’s comadre to carry a statue of the Virgin.
I thought we were going to walk around the square across from the house - but our Posada journey takes us a few steps around the corner of the driveway to the front door. “Joseph” knocks, we all recite a very abbrieveated section of the long traditional verses printed in our booklet. A smaller group of guests inside the house answer back.
I don’t understand all the verses, but they are meant to convince the "innkeeper" of our plight, standing out in the cold with no shelter. This “innkeeper” is a pushover - in about 2 minutes the doors open, and we all crowd into the house. Mary and Joseph are safely tucked into a manger display that is so large a small child could (and probably does) play in it. The manger has taken over the living room alongside a fabulously gaudy pink aluminum Christmas tree and assorted Disney themed Christmas decorations.
Posada completed with success, the crowd continues through the kitchen, pausing to refill cups from an impressive assortment of booze and refrescos on the BYOB&share bar. We upgrade our punch with some rum. There are tortillas and taco fillings on the kitchen table - your choice of shredded chicken or diced pork feet, kept warm in foil trays, surrounded by all the trimmings - onion, crema, several salsas, and cilantro.
We exit out the back door to where the Piñata is waiting. Kids get first dibs at the smacking, then adults. Sergio takes his turn. Adults have to wear a blindfold, so there he is, flailing blind and wild, almost smacking some people at the perimeter, including his comadre! I expect someone to pause the fun and redirect him to a safer setup, but everyone simply laughs, shouts, and moves back. He succeeds in dismembering the piñata but does not break it. After a few more tries, a teenager delivers the final blow, and the floor is quickly covered with fruit and candy.
Having fulfilled the minimum acceptable observance of a traditional Posada, everyone returns to the Party. The soloist is joined by 4 other young guapissimo musicians. Now we have a band! They fire up a fearless set of 50's rock; 50’s and 60's music is really popular in Mexico City right now, I don’t know why, but I've been hearing it since I got here. They are also loco for the Beatles.
It's after 1 a.m.; the dance floor fills with people from ages 5 to 75. I grab my Mexican, who can dance to any music and look fabulous doing it, and we join the driveway disco. Even though the songs are not my favorites, this is the music of my culture, and for once I do know how to move to the music in Mexico!
I blame the music, the spiked punch, and the genuine, relaxed joy of the crowd for giving me my second wind. We stay until 3 at this party that I had been dreading upon arrival. When the band finally refuses to do another “encore”, everyone says goodbye to all (which takes 20 minutes at least, because courtesy dictates that we literally say goodbye to all, one by one, chat a bit and promise to see everyone very soon). We virtually flag down an Uber as we complete my very first Mexico City Posada, arriving about 30 minutes later at our AirBnB apartment across town.
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