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Celebrating with song
Couple keeps Mexican Christmas tradition alive
Ana Castaneda and husband Miguel sing in their Gainesville home Wednesday as part of “Posadas,” a Mexican tradition during Christmastime. The “Posadas” is a nine-day celebration, beginning Dec. 16, in which friends and family re-enact the night St. Joseph and the Virgin Mary looked for lodging. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

A world of tradition

Those who call Hall County home come from varied backgrounds, with different beliefs, traditions and cultures. This Christmas season, The Times celebrates that diversity with a look at seven individuals who have come here from different countries. We'll explore Christmas traditions from their home countries and also talk about what has brought them to North Georgia.


The muffled sound of song drifts through the front door.

"En el nombre del cielo, os pido Posadas, pues no puede andar, mi esposa amada," they sing, asking for refuge at the house.

Inside, another group echoes back, wondering who these travelers are.

This is the seventh night of Posadas and the first time Miguel and Ana Castaneda have held the traditional Hispanic Christmas celebration at their Gainesville home.

Family members gathered to keep this tradition alive by singing back and forth through the closed door.

Those outside hold statues of Mary and Joseph, signifying the struggle the two faced while finding shelter in Bethlehem. Inside, the others play the innkeepers who turned them away.

As the song builds, they swing open the front door, letting the cold night air and travelers inside.

They blow out the candles in their hands, the faint smell of smoke filling the home.

In Mexico, Posadas is a large religious celebration held nightly from Dec. 16 through Christmas.

"All of the people that live on the street, one guy says, ‘Hey, I'm going to celebrate today in my house. Let's close the street.' So no cars park, and the whole block enjoys," said 39-year-old Miguel Castaneda, who moved to America about 20 years ago from Mexico.

Everyone takes off work, he said, and the parties last all night.

His 27-year-old wife, whom he met in Mexico and married 10 years ago, said Posadas celebrations here are smaller than in Mexico because most of the visitors need to work the next day.

But celebrating Posadas is an important part of maintaining their culture, the couple said, and offers a way for those who left family in Mexico to honor traditions and pass them on to their children.

"I don't stop doing those things because my family did these things for me," Miguel Castaneda said.

"... (It's a) reunion of the family, and I like to make my sons and everyone continue those traditions."

Miguel Castaneda moved to California from Guadalajara when he was 19. A few years later, a relative told him he could find good work in Georgia, so he moved to Gainesville.

"I lived in a place where everything was five or 10 minutes away, all of the clubs," he said. "And I came here and I said, ‘Everything is in Atlanta. You need to travel.' I said, ‘No, this is not for me.' "

But a few years later, he met his wife on a trip to Mexico. Over the next year, he made four trips to visit her and soon they married.

Today, Miguel Castaneda works as a landscaper and he said he appreciates Gainesville for the quality of life it gives himself, his wife and their 4-year-old son Brayan.

"(Gainesville) is really quiet. You can make money," he said. "I started to say, ‘This is a good place. I think I'm going to stay.' "

Most of the couple's family are still in Mexico. But the ones who live in Georgia gather for Posadas celebrations starting about a week before Christmas.

They also keep the Mexican tradition of celebrating Christmas with a New Year's-like celebration that starts on the night of Dec. 24 and continues until midnight Christmas morning.

"We wait until then to give a hug and celebrate and that's when the kids open the presents," Ana Castaneda said.

Other traditions, though, have been set aside to make space for new ones from American culture.

In Mexico, the Three Wise Men bring gifts on June 6 and Christmas is a strictly religious holiday.

"For us, Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus and there never was Santa Claus that brought gifts," Ana Castaneda said.

But most Mexican families who have moved to the United States now tell their children about Santa and give gifts in December, not June, she said.

Posadas, though, is one tradition she said will always be carried on in America.

On Wednesday night at the Castaneda household, after the group finishes its songs and the travelers are welcomed inside, the family members gather in the living room to pray the rosary.

Ana Castaneda leads the prayers with the faint sound of children playing downstairs in the background.

When they finish, the Castanedas pull out snacks and drinks from the kitchen. Unlike the night-long Posadas celebrations in Mexico, this gathering will soon end with the parents bundling their children into winter coats and throwing blankets over sleeping infants.