The goal of the Mexican Heritage Center in Stockton, Calif., is to promote the customs and traditions of Mexico, and when member Connie Martinez was asked to organize the Christmas program, she knew exactly what was needed.
She invited churches and businesses to contribute nativity scenes for display in the facility at 111 S. Sutter St. in Stockton, and organized a posada processional for Saturday.
Translated as "inn" or "shelter," a posada is a procession that recreates the journey of Joseph and Mary as they search for a place to rest and for Mary to give birth.
Participants will gather in front of St. Mary's Catholic Church at 203 E. Washington St. at 4:45 p.m. for Saturday's candlelight procession that begins at 5 p.m.
"It's traditional for Mexican families in Mexico," Martinez said. "It's something very important, and in the U.S., it's been catching on. I remember in Stockton, where I grew up on the south side, the Virgin Mary would be on a real donkey."
That's also typical of Mexican posadas, where neighborhoods throughout the country organize the event every year.
Residents of certain homes in any given neighborhood agree to turn away the couple and those in one home take them in. Traditional songs are sung at each stop, with Mary and Joseph asking for a shelter and the owners telling them there is no room.
Area Catholic churches with Latino parishioners are celebrating Las Posadas as they do every year, with traditional daily prayers from Dec. 16 to 24. The Mexican Heritage Center's processional hasn't been staged, though, since 1999, Martinez said.
"It's worthwhile for young people and old people like me," Martinez said.
The procession ends at the Mexican Heritage Center, where tamales and other treats will be served, and children will be given candy.
There will also be live entertainment, with performances by dancers from St. Linus Church, the Children of God Choir from St. Luke's Church, Rick Moreno and the Violins, a violin and guitar group from San Jose, and local harp player Michael Tejada.
Traditionally the procession ends with a party for children and features a pi?.
"We'll encourage people, in addition to going to religious services for Advent, to go to the posada to the Mexican Heritage Center," said St. Mary's the Rev. Dean McFalls. "It starts at St. Mary's, so we'll be visible."
His church, like many others with large Latino populations, traditionally celebrates the nine days of novenas, which commemorate the nine months of pregnancy.
"The first value of the Posada is to make visible what happened 2,000 years ago," McFalls said. "When the Lord came to be among us, he could not find a place that would receive him. The fundamental message of the posada is a sad one. God came to live among us and was not well received.
There's no room for him in the inn. A jealous king wants to kill him. He's born in poverty, in a stable."
His plight is similar to undocumented residents of the U.S., McFalls said.
"There's something especially meaningful for Hispanics in the procession," McFalls said.
Those who aren't Latino are also invited to join the procession, though, and experience a small element of another culture.
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