By DONNA BETH WEILENMAN
MARTINEZ, Calif. – For the third year in a row, the Martinez Adobe at John Muir National Historic Site will be the place to celebrate Las Posadas in a bilingual program of music, pageantry and children’s games.
As in the past, the highlight of the celebration Saturday, Dec. 5, will be the Spanish Choir of St. Catherine of Siena Church, said Jim MacDonald, lead park ranger.
The national park originally started Las Posadas processions in the 1980s, reenacting the Christmastime story of the pilgrimage of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, where they searched for lodging.
Although the park took a short recess from the celebration, it resumed Las Posadas three years ago, welcoming the Spanish Choir of St. Catherine of Sienna to participate, MacDonald said.
Hale Sargent, interpretive specialist with the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, said Las Posadas will also provide visitors with a look at California history.
“This program includes some religious elements for educational and cultural purposes, and to share the story of the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail,” Sargent said. “People of all faiths are welcomed and encouraged to attend. Come discover how the faith and traditions introduced by the Spanish continue to shape our community.”
The adobe has a display about the history of the 1,200-mile national trail that marks the route Lt. Col. Juan Bautista de Anza used in 1776 to lead 240 settlers to the San Francisco Bay Area in Alta, California.
“And so we at the National Park Service reached out to the organizers of Las Posadas, inviting their program to return,” Sargent said. “From our perspective, this is a great public program that celebrates the diversity of our community and recognizes the Spanish heritage of early California.”
Las Posadas as a holiday tradition originated in the 16th century in the Spanish territory of the New World, and was started by early Spanish missionaries who observed indigenous ceremonies that were performed near Christmas. The missionaries then developed Las Posadas procession and festival for their new converts to the Catholic faith.
In such countries as Mexico and Guatemala, and in some parts of the United States, Las Posadas, named for lodgings or accommodations, goes on for nine days.
In traditional celebrations in those countries, a couple portrays Mary and Joseph, who visit a home or church designated as the inn where the couple can stay and be welcomed with songs.
Children often carry poinsettias, and strike a star-shaped piñata to get the goodies packed inside.
The Martinez Adobe ceremony is more brief, but contains many of the same elements, MacDonald said.
Two young people will represent Joseph and Mary and will be accompanied by a donkey, MacDonald said. “The procession has a song exchange,” he said. Those attending will be given music printouts so they can sing along.
Children will be able to break open a piñata, and the park will have a station dedicated to children’s activities, MacDonald said.
Sargent said one of the original organizers of Las Posadas, Sandra Candanosa, has joined the Spanish Choir of St. Catherine of Siena. “And so the Spanish Choir organizes the procession. They bring the performers, costumes and piñata.” Las Montañas Supermarket is providing refreshments, he said.
“The program is bilingual and celebrates our community’s diversity, past and present. We will pass out sheets of the Spanish language songs along with English translations,” Sargent said. “If you are learning Spanish, learning English, or just want to enjoy a holiday tradition, this event is for you!”
The site of Las Posadas, the Martinez Adobe, was built in 1849 by Don Vincente Martinez, son of the commandant of the Presidio of San Francisco. Among its owners was Dr. John Strentzel, father-in-law of naturalist and environmentalist John Muir. It became the home of Muir’s daughter, Wanda, and her husband, Thomas Hanna.
Las Posadas will begin at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 5, at the Martinez Adobe at the John Muir National Historic Site, 4202 Alhambra Ave., Martinez. The park will move the program inside the John Muir National Historic Site Visitor Center in case of rain. Admission to the park and to the Las Posadas celebration is free.
For those who enjoy the celebration at the Martinez Adobe and want to experience another Las Posadas commemoration, St. Catherine of Siena, 606 Mellus St., Martinez, will have its own event after its 12:30 p.m. Mass Dec. 20.
This year’s procession at St. Catherine is dedicated to a late member, Catalina Torres, 44, who volunteered to help battered women and was killed in 2008 alongside Martinez Police Sgt. Paul Starzyk, 47, during a domestic violence attack on a Martinez beauty salon, said Marissa Perez, the church’s secretary for the Latino Community.
St. Catherine’s Las Posadas celebration is expected to start about 2 p.m. Dec. 20, she said.
In Mexico, Perez said, processions often stop at different stations at which those portraying Mary and Joseph sing specific songs as they seek lodging. Those representing inn operators sing responses from the various stops until the couple reaches the place where they will be quartered in a stable.
In Martinez, because there will be just one stop at the church, participants are divided into those who will walk outside and sing the songs of the holy family, and those indoors, who sing for the innkeepers.
She said the ceremony is open to the public. “People bring in food,” she said. Among the children’s games will be the breaking of piñatas.
Las Posadas gives Martinez residents and visitors of any faith or background a chance to see another example of the culture of Mexico, Perez said.
For those of Catholic and Mexican backgrounds, “it’s a piece of back home,” she said. “For me, it’s the music and the sense of community and camaraderie,” she said.