For years, Alina Hernandez took part in the traditional posadas at Our Lady of Tepeyac Parish, which included church members walking through Little Village in a recreation of the biblical journey taken by Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem before Jesus was born.
The festive celebrations held on the days leading up until Christmas also often included food, colorful piñatas and religious music and children dressed as angels. But this holiday, the tradition has been adjusted because of the coronavirus: the masses this past week were instead live-streamed on Facebook, as was the recreation which featured adults dressed as Mary and Joseph walking around the church instead of taking refuge in a church member’s home.
“This year by doing a simple representation just by praying the rosary and singing one or two Christmas carols, that was more than enough,” said Hernandez, 23.
Across Chicago, Latinos, including some who live in the areas hardest hit by the pandemic, have changed how they’ve celebrated the posadas, which are observed from Dec. 16 through Christmas Eve.
The changes reflect the fact that more than 68,700 Latinos tested positive for COVID-19 in the city, the most out of any racial group, according to data from the city. In the 60623 Zip Code, which includes the Little Village church, more than 200 deaths have been related to COVID-19, according to data from the city of Chicago.
The Rev. Thomas Boharic, of Our Lady of Tepeyac, Assumption and St. Roman Parish, said it was important for the church to continue the posadas because so many people have been leaning on their faith to get through the pandemic.
“Singing these songs that are very beautiful helps to engage your imagination, engages something deep within everyone,” Boharic said.
‘There’s always hope’
The tradition has also been altered at churches in the majority-Hispanic 60639 Zip code, which includes Belmont Cragin, and where there has been more than 10,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 165 deaths as of Dec. 19, according to statistics from the city.
A few weeks ago, three parishioners from the neighborhood’s Saints Genevieve and Stanislaus Bishop and Martyr Church died of the coronavirus, said the Rev. Sergio Rivas.
In past years, the church had lively in-person celebrations for the posada, but this year, the only thing church members could do together was pray virtually, Rivas said. The church posted Facebook videos daily of reflection and traditional songs to observe the occasion.
While some have expressed sadness about missing the tradition, Rivas said most parishioners understand the safety concerns.
“This Christmas we are going back to the basics — a baby born in a stable from a poor family brings hope,” Rivas said. “As bad as the situation looks, there is always hope, and I think that’s the spirit of Christmas.”
Meanwhile, the Archdiocese of Chicago’s immigration ministry turned its annual posada into a virtual one by streaming a video of a handful of people completing the traditional walk that is meant to draw a connection between today’s immigrants and Jesus’ earthly parents, said Elena Segura, the national coordinator for the ministry.
The video — which was broadcast on Zoom, Facebook and YouTube — shows the group walking through the Loop to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Chicago field office and the Metropolitan Correctional Center. The posada started at 7 a.m. last Friday to reflect that deportations typically take place early in the morning, Segura said.
The event usually draws anywhere from 100 to 300 people in person. But she thinks that count was exceeded this year with its virtual audience, she said.
“That’s the positive side of the pandemic — we connect with people all over the country, not just Chicago,” Segura said.
In Pilsen, the National Museum of Mexican Art typically hosts Christmas concerts to celebrate the posadas. But this year, the institution made events virtual and created a bilingual online kit so families could create their own piñatas using materials in their homes, said Antonio Pazarán, the director of education at the museum.
“Now due to the pandemic we are trying to create some special time for families to engage,” Pazarán said.
As for Pazarán, he woke up early Thursday to make batches of tamales, food that is traditionally part of the posadas. This year, the head chef, his mother, wasn’t there in person so she joined in from Mexico via Zoom to help him and his daughter make the tamales on their own.
“We make those connections where we can,” Pazarán said. “… It’s a way of remembering that we are still fortunate that we still have our health.”
Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from the Chicago Community Trust.