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December 12, 2007 > A gem of a Christmas celebration

A gem of a Christmas celebration

By Praveena Raman
Photos By Courtesy of Ed Frakes

Las Posadas:

The celebration of Las Posadas, which means "the inn" or "shelter," started in Mexico in the 16th century when a Spanish led expedition conquered the Aztec empire and Mexico became a Spanish colony. Catholic missionaries came with the conquistadores. They found that the Aztecs celebrated the birth of their sun god Huitzilopochtli during the last days of December, around the winter solstice - about the same time as Christmas. Seeing the similarities between the Aztec celebration and Christmas, they used them 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.

Las Posadas celebrations start on December 16 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 carols are sung, everyone is given a basket of Christmas sweets called colaciones along with sandwiches, cookies and fruit punch. Then a very fancy pinata 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. In some Mexican 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.

Las Posadas at the Mission

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 or two day celebration for Las Posadas, the Fremont community has always enjoyed the traditional nine day celebration. Beginning December 16, one and all are invited to gather at 6 p.m. each evening on the porch of the Mission San Jose Museum on Mission Blvd. If you go, bring a warm coat and a flashlight. Carols are sung while walking to a local business where entertainment is followed by light refreshments provided by the hosts. This celebration is sponsored by the Committee for Restoration of Mission San Jose and Fremont Cultural Arts Council. For more information call Laura Diaz at (510) 657-1797 ext.103.

Las Posadas at Mission San Jose
6 p.m. each evening, December 16 - 24
Meet at the steps of Mission Museum
43300 Mission Blvd, Fremont.

Sunday December 16
Sonic Fusion
Jim Burris, Director
Dominican Sisters
43326 Mission Blvd., Fremont

Monday, December 17
Sharon Xavier de Souza, Soprano
Olive Hyde Art Gallery
123 Washington Blvd., Fremont

Tuesday, December 18
Wesley Bell Choir
Rebecca Combs, Director
Sisters of the Holy Family
159 Washington Blvd., Fremont

Wednesday, December 19
Center Stage Singers,
Knuti Van Hoven, Director
Local History Museum
190 Anza St., Fremont

Thursday, December 20
Paula Harrington, Soprano
Cheese Tasters
43367 Mission Blvd., Fremont

Friday, December 21
Connie Chew, Soprano
Prudential Realty
43505 Mission Blvd., Fremont

Saturday, December 22
Richard Kendrick, Ed Lee
Anza Street Troubadours
Von Till Law Offices
Old Rectory
152 Anza St., Fremont

Sunday, December 23
Kristin del Rio, Soprano
Mission Coffee
151 Washington Blvd., Fremont

Monday, December 24
Joe Faria, Pianist
Old Mission San Jose
43300 Mission Blvd., Fremont

Simbang Gabi:

In the Phillipines, traditionally Simbang Gabi, meaning "Mass at dawn," occurs during the Advent season with the primary celebration - the Aguinaldo Masses - starting on December 16 and lasting until Christmas Eve. The final event is a Misa de Gallo (Mass of the rooster) on Christmas Day. Christmas trees are also brought home at the beginning of December and kept until January 6, the Day of the Three Kings. They are decorated with ornaments, usually with religious themes, made of Capiz, wood, paper and plastic.

On these nine days, church bells ring to signal the coming of dawn and also let people know that Mass will be starting. During Mass, hymns and carols are sung traditionally in Tagalog followed by a festive Filipino breakfast. In many communities after the Aguinaldo, there is a procession or "panuluyan" that goes to a particular host each day to re-enact the story of the birth of Jesus. After the reenactment, sweets are given to the children in the procession. During Simbang Gabi, huge "parols" or star lanterns are lit in the community and neighborhoods gather to celebrate. Often a community band plays traditional Christmas music and lights in the "parol" brighten and dim in time to the music, forming beautiful designs and patterns.

On Christmas Eve, after Midnight Mass "Misa de Gallo," filipinos celebrate Noche Buena and eat special snacks such as 'caldo," or porridge made with rice. On Christmas Day, lunch again is a big affair with specialties like Pancit (a noodle dish signifying long life) lumpia, ham and other meats. Special bread called "bibingka," baked on banana leaves and eaten with butter and cream cheese, is also a favorite. Other favorites include "Malangit" (rice cakes) eaten with "Latik" (dried coconut milk), "Suman" (rice cake wrapped in palm leaves) eaten with "Latik," brown sugar or white sugar, "patati" or pig's feet and "lechon" or roasted pig. Godparents play a very important part in Christmas. On Christmas Day, children are taken to their Godparent's home and receive gifts from them.

Simbang Gabi
December 16 - 24
5 a.m.
Holy Spirit Catholic Church
37588 Fremont Blvd, Fremont
(510) 797-1660

Simbang Gabi
December 16 - 24
5 a.m.
St. Edward Church
5788 Thornton Ave., Newark
(510) 797-0241

Pasko, Pista at Papuri - Simbang Gabi
Saturday, December 22
6 a.m.
Simbang Gabi and a "barrio fiesta" style reception
Old Mission Church, St. Joseph Parish
43300 Mission Blvd., Fremont
Valerie Millares, (510) 366-0180

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