Celebrating a Minnesota Nochebuenaby Elizabeth Baier, Minnesota Public Radio
In the upper Midwest, Christmas has long been associated with traditions from the area's early European immigrants. But with the region's ever-changing demographics, those traditions have evolved. Latinos now account for the nation's largest and fastest-growing minority group. And like earlier waves of immigrants, they've also brought along the religious and cultural rituals from their home countries.
St. Paul, Minn. — Minnesotans have a long history of preserving holiday traditions from faraway lands.
Think lutefisk and tannenbaum tree farms.
Today, its Latinos who are bringing their ancestors' traditions home to Minnesota.
For Mexican-Americans, the tradition starts nine days before Christmas, with a nightly re-enactment of the Nativity.
It begins with a knock.
Inside Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in St. Paul, eight-year old Alonzo Lozano and six-year old Julissa Ruiz have stopped in front of a door that's meant to symbolize a house or an inn.
They're playing the roles of Joseph and Mary and are singing a song asking for shelter. About one-hundred people acting as pilgrims follow behind in a procession through the dark hallways of the church.
The re-enactment is called a Posada, which in Spanish means inn or shelter.
The festivities end at midnight on Christmas Eve with Nochebuena, the gathering that draws Mexican as well as other Latin American families together to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
"It's a way to get the family together to think about the other side of Christmas," said Eloisa Lozano, a volunteer at the church who helped organize this year's posadas.
Like many families, Lozano brought her ancestor's customs to the city's westside years ago, customs she's passed on to her American-born children and grandchildren.
"To me it's important because it's a tradition and it's about my faith," Lozano said.
And because they're in Minnesota, Lozano said they've had to adjust a few of the customs, like "doing the pinata outside," she said. "You can't do that outside, so we do that inside."
Pinatas have been a part of the Posada tradition in Mexico for centuries. Legend says they symbolize evil, and the candies inside represent goodness. Once broken, the candies come pouring out, as a sign of a new beginning.
After the re-enactment, the families gathered inside the church social hall for the highly-anticipated pinata.
The kids took turns whacking the star-shaped object with a metal baseball bat, until it broke and all the candies came crashing onto the ground.
And while pinatas are a symbol of Christmas for Mexicans, many Caribbean Latinos will celebrate the holiday with more of a party-like atmosphere.
Puerto Ricans and Cubans will roast a pig and toast with a coconut-flavored egg nog, called a coquito. Many will attend Midnight Mass, then return home to eat, open presents and party into the early hours of Christmas Day.
For Colombians, the celebration is also rooted in the Christian belief of the Christmas story.
Minneapolis resident Hugo Guzman and his relatives have gathered in different houses for the eight nights leading up to Christmas Eve to pray the "Novena to Baby Jesus," and sing traditional Latin American Christmas carols.
For Guzman, the gatherings, music and holiday food always bring back memories from home, even though he's lived in Minnesota for 30 years.
"It's something that, after so many years living here, we have in many ways become Americanized and we have tried to adopt the customs of the [U.S.]," Guzman said. "This is something that still reminds us of who we are."
And who he is now, Guzman said, is pretty simple:
"I'm a Colombian with a Minnesota accent," he said as he laughed.
- All Things Considered, 12/24/2008, 5:50 p.m.