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December 21, 2004 > A Christmas Gem in the Tri-City Area

A Christmas Gem in the Tri-City Area

Las Posadas: A Latino Christmas Celebration

by Praveena Raman

Las Posadas, which in Spanish means "the inn" or "shelter," is a traditional Christmas celebration that takes place in Mexico and in many of the Spanish speaking Central American countries from December 16th through December 24th re-enacting Joseph and Mary's search for a room before the birth of Jesus Christ. Due to the Spanish influence in the Philippines, Simbang Gabi, the Filipino version of Las Posadas is celebrated.

The celebration of Las Posadas started in Mexico in the 16th century when a Spanish led expedition conquered the Aztec empire and Mexico became a Spanish colony. The catholic missionaries who came with the conquistadores found that the Aztecs celebrated the birth of their sun god Huitzilopochtli during the last days of December, around the winter solstice, at about the same time as Christmas. According to the Aztec story Huitzilopochtli was conceived supernaturally by his mother Coatlicue. His brothers did not believe her and schemed to kill her. Huitzilopochtli came to her rescue and destroyed his brothers with a fire serpent. The Aztecs celebrated his birth from midnight and continued through the following day, with singing, dancing, and speechmaking. The Indians paraded under elaborate arches of roses, wearing their finest attire adorned with brightly tinted plumes. Special dishes were prepared, including small idols made of corn paste and cactus honey, and they had huge bonfires in the courtyards and on the flat roofs of their houses. The missionaries saw the similarities between the Aztec celebration and Christmas and used it to introduce the Aztecs to a new religion, Christianity. During this time St. Ignatius Loyola suggested a Christmas novena, or special prayers to be said on nine successive days before Christmas. This religious novena was also later introduced in Mexico. A spirit of fun and joyful celebrations soon intermingled with the religious novena and the nine day celebration moved from the church to the community.

In Mexico and in other Latin American countries, Christmas celebrations start on December 16th with a processional led by children as soon as it gets dark. A child dressed as an angel heads the procession, followed by two more children carrying figures of Mary and Joseph on a small litter adorned with twigs of pine. Groups of boys and girls follow the lead figures, then come the grown-ups, and last of all, the musicians. They sing and chant special Posada songs and walk slowly carrying a lighted candle. The processional stops at a previously selected destination, on each of the eight nights before Christmas, and asks for lodging for the night. The people are first denied shelter. They again request lodging and are then invited in to read the scriptures and sing Christmas carols called alguinaldos. After the carols are sung, everyone is given a basket of Christmas sweets called colaciones along with sandwiches, cookies and fruit punch. Then a very fancy pi–ata filled with candies and nuts is broken and the party begins. The nativity is left at the chosen destination and picked up on the next night when the processional begins again. This continues for eight nights in commemoration of the journey of Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem. On the ninth night, Christmas Eve, an impressive Posada takes place. On this evening an image of the Christ child is carried in by two people who are called the godparents, and laid in His tiny crib in the nacimiento. In some Mexican cities the procession on the ninth day will start in the church courtyard, go through the community and end back at the church. In other cities there is a live enactment of the birth of Jesus with people dressed as Mary and Joseph, shepherds with animals and children giving gifts of flowers and fruits to the infant Jesus. The enactment ends with dancing and eating tamales and drinking hot chocolate.

Fremont

Mission San Jose: The celebration of Las Posadas has been a tradition at the Mission San Jose in Fremont for more than 20 years. While many communities around the Bay Area have a one to two day celebration for Las Posadas, the Fremont community has always enjoyed the traditional nine day celebration. "Las Posadas here brings back memories of Christmas when I was growing up in Nicaragua," said Lupita Angst who has been attending the celebrations at the Mission for the past seven years. "Back home [Nicaragua] we used to go to people's houses and at every house you went [to] you were given sweets, fruits and nuts." Debbie Borges who has been coming to the Las Posadas celebrations for more than three years said that it makes her feel part of the community and one big family. "The procession, singing the carols and the reenactment has so much spiritual meaning and is so beautiful; it takes you away from everyday hustle and bustle and puts you in the mood for Christmas."

This year the Las Posadas celebrations started on December 16th with the Montessori School hosting the first evening. The entertainment was provided by the Centerstage Singers, a diverse group of singers representing different ethnicities and religion and directed by Knuti Van Hoven. In the midst of singing traditional Christmas carols, the group delighted the younger audience members with a rendition of Jingle Bells where the second verse was sung completely by laughing in tune and then surprised everyone by singing "Silent Night," the traditional Las Posadas ending, in five different languages namely English, Spanish, German, French and Tamil.

Las Posadas continued with the Cisco Singers on December 17th, Sharon Xavier De Sousa on December 18th, the Madrigal Singers on December 19th and Paula Harrington on December 20th providing the entertainment.

The celebration continues through December 24th as follows:

Tues - Dec. 21
Holy Family Auditorium
Star Struck Musical Theatre
159 Washington Blvd.
Lori Stokes Director


Wed - Dec. 22
Mission Coffees and More
Kristin Del Rio
151 Washington Blvd.

Thurs - Dec. 23
Von Till Law Offices Anza Street Troopadors
152 Anza St. (Old Rectory) .

Fri - Dec. 24
Old Mission San Jose
Caroling and Piñata
43266 Mission Blvd.

If you have never attended the Las Posadas celebration then this is a must, an experience not to be missed. The procession starts at 6 p.m. every day from outside the Mission (43300 Mission Blvd) and proceeds to the selected destination for that evening. All community members are welcome and asked to wear warm coats and bring a flashlight. Las Posadas is sponsored by the Committee for Fremont Cultural Arts Council and Restoration of the Mission San Jose. For more information call (510) 657-1797 or (510) 794-7166 x 103.

 
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