Participate in Cultural Celebrations to Enhance Your Advent

I am blessed to live in a multicultural parish.  The five thousand families who are my fellow parishioners come from a broad cross section of traditions and backgrounds.  We celebrate parish festivals with Mariachis, Portuguese sausages, Filipino dishes and a vast array of processions each year.  During the season of Advent, the heart of our church building is kept warm and glowing with prayers said in a multitude of languages.  One of the advantages of this diversity is the opportunity for my children to learn about other countries and cultures.  This Advent, we will be joining in on the fun by participating in the following celebrations:

Simbang Gabi – The Filipino parishioners at our Church, who always welcome others to join them for a nine-day novena to the Blessed Mother, celebrate Simbang Gabi. While "Simbang Gabi" literally means "Mass at Dawn" many parishes hold their masses in the evening so that the celebrations will be more accessible to all. The devotion begins on December 16 with nightly masses followed by gatherings featuring traditional Filipino food.  The "grand finale" is held at the Filipino mass at our parish on Christmas Eve.

Posadas – During the nine days leading up to Christmas, Mexican families celebrate the tradition of "Las Posadas".  The word "posada" means lodging or shelter.  This tradition commemorates the difficult journey of Mary and Joseph as they traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem seeking shelter.  The participants in the Posada are called "Santos Peregrinos" (Holy Pilgrims) and they process carrying candles and singing songs together.  In some communities, the Posada journeys between various homes.  At our church, the Peregrinos journey the perimeter of the church building, knocking at the various access doors.  Just as Mary and Joseph were told there was "no room at the inn", the pilgrims are told that there is no room for them to enter.  Finally, at the very last door, they are welcomed inside for prayer and singing.  Afterwards at our Social Hall, a large celebration is held featuring food, dancing and a traditional piñata.  The Posada is a wonderful way to teach young children about the faithful journey of Mary and Joseph and the nativity of Jesus.

Las Pastorelas – This newly revived tradition in my home parish is based upon a centuries old devotion that dates back to roughly the twelfth century.  The Pastorela is a dramatized "shepherd's play" where participants act out the shepherds visitation to the Christ child.  At my parish this year, our Hispanic youth group is presenting the Pastorela and our new pastor has hinted at a possible cameo appearance.  The original Pastorelas were scripts handed down from one generation to the next through oral tradition.  Many versions featured the shepherds, Satan, St. Michael the Archangel, with the common theme being the depiction of the Nativity of the Christ Child.  Following the Pastorela, families will gather for prayer and refreshments.

Cultural Christmas Recipes – While doing your Christmas baking this year, consider adding a few multi-cultural recipes to compliment your old standbys.  A few possibilities include Lebkuchen (Austrian "life cookies), Moravian Hearts, Klauskerl (St. Nicholas doughman), and pfeffernuesse (peppermint nut cookies). 

Catholic families have so many wonderful traditions and observances to help us joyfully anticipate the birth of our Savior.  This year, why not venture outside of your tried and true family customs and experience another culture's celebrations?  Participating in these types of festivities affords your child the opportunity to learn geography, cuisine, language and culture and how these factors can contribute towards religious devotion.

To learn more about Catholic cultural celebrations in your own community, contact nearby parishes and inquire about their schedule of Advent events or contact your diocesan Office of Family Life.  If celebrations such as these are not available where you live, feel free to research these traditions and gather together with other families to celebrate a Posada in your neighborhood or parish.  By embracing these wonderful ethnic celebrations, we offer our families yet another way to joyfully luxuriate in the season of Advent.


Lisa Hendey, Catholic wife and mom, is the founder and webmaster of and the author of A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms: 52 Companions for Your Heart, Mind, Body and Soul and The Handbook for Catholic Moms: Nurturing Your Heart, Mind, Body and Soul. Lisa writes for several online and print publications, enjoys speaking around the country and hosts the Catholic Moments Podcast. Visit her at

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  • Guest

    This is something I try to do as well with my children, who have multiple ethnic heritages themselves: Italian, Irish, Polish, and Salvadoran. We share the Oplatek on Christmas Eve, have candles in the windows of our home in the Irish tradition, and we have a big Neapolitan Nativity Scene. We will be leading my bilingual First Holy Communion Class in Las Posadas next week. It gives the girls a sense of the universality of Holy Mother Church, and brings the holy days alive for them.

     Here is a photo montage of our parish celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

    Leticia Velasquez

    Cause of Our Joy