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Pico Residents Celebrate Christmas in Santa Monica with 'Las Posadas'

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By Hector Gonzalez
Staff Writer

December 19, 2014 -- It's a 400-year-old Hispanic tradition kept alive among Latino enclaves much like Santa Monica's, whose residents are re-enacting “Las Posadas” each night through Christmas Eve at St. Ann Catholic Church on Colorado Avenue.

That won’t be the only celebration in the bayside city. At 17th Street and Delaware Avenue, in the heart of Santa Monica’s Pico Neighborhood, Mary Cornejo's relatives, friends and neighbors will gather around 7 p.m. this Saturday, as they have for the past five years, to walk in procession.

In front will be amateur actors portraying the Holy Family, followed by singing children dressed as angels. Anywhere from 30 to 40 people will take part this year, maybe more, she said.

“We always get new families—it grows” from year to year, said Cornejo, office manager at the Pico Youth and Family Center on Pico Boulevard.

Originating in Spain but now a Christmas custom across Latin America, “Las Posadas” is a symbolic remembrance of Joseph's and Mary's search for lodging traveling from Nazareth to Bethlehem, a moving nativity scene that ends with a party and good food.

The basic parts haven't changed much for more than 400 years, according to By custom, the processions begin at dusk each night for nine nights -- representing the month's that Mary was pregnant with Jesus, the website said.

“The group representing the Holy Family stands outside a series of houses, singing songs, asking for lodging,” the website says. “They are refused time and again until the group reaches the designated house. Finally, the travelers are permitted to enter.”

A potluck party of Christmastime foods typically follows, the website says.

At Cornejo's “after party,” the fare will be traditional Mexican, she said.

“Because I'm hosting it, I'm making the main dish—tamales. You cannot have a Posadas without the tamales. That's a must—the tamales, champurrado, ponche...”

Jessica Cuellar, administrative assistant at St. Ann Catholic Church, where parishioners are celebrating “Las Posadas” nightly through Dec. 24., was expecting the biggest crowds yet on Friday night.

“We'll have more than 100 people here,” she said earlier this week. “We also break a pinata for the children.”

In recent years, the procession has stayed within the church's boundaries, going “from classroom to classroom,” Cuellar said.

“It's very family oriented,” she said.

Although Cornejo's “Posadas” event is one day only—the group visits two houses before returning to hers for the potluck—keeping the tradition alive in her Santa Monica hometown was important for her, she said.

“I just wanted to let people know about our culture,” said Cornejo. “This is such a big tradition in our Latino communities, and it's really for the community, to make it a lively time for them.”

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