Una Noche de Las Posadas | Credit: Courtesy

The annual tradition of Las Posadas — the Christmastime reenactment of Mary and Joseph’s nine-day journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem before giving birth to Jesus — has been held in Mexico and California for more than 400 years. The solemn candlelit procession and call-and-response singing is a way for neighborhoods and communities to gather together and honor their cultural heritage, while enjoying some good tamales, buñuelos, and champurrados.

Sometimes they are organized by families, and other times they are put together by neighborhood churches, such as Our Lady of Guadalupe, which hosts the events for nine nights each December. The Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation has celebrated Una Noche de las Posadas for more than three decades, which begins by candlelight at the Presidio Chapel with traditional Posadas songs led by Luis Moreno and El Coro del Real Presidio de Santa Bárbara. Director of Programs Danny Tsai said that one of the things that sets it apart from other holiday traditions is its progression from somber to festive.

“It is a holiday that does not necessarily start off upbeat and celebratory. It isn’t until Mary and Joseph are finally offered lodging [that] everyone [can] begin to relax and rejoice,” Tsai said. 

After the Presidio, local children portraying Mary, Joseph, and an angel lead the procession of singers and musicians up and down State Street, singing at different institutions before finishing at Casa de la Guerra, where the festivities really begin.

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The Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation first began celebrating Una Noche de las Posadas back in 1990, and although typically Las Posadas are held December 16-24 with different houses as the “inns” each night, the Presidio version is held all on one night.

This year the event was held on December 10, and featured siblings Kanani, Koa, and Kaianna Zertuche as Mary, Joseph, and the angel leading the procession while the group sang “Kyrie,” “Hacia Belén,” and “Noche de Paz.” Children received aguinaldos (bags filled with candy) and got the chance to hit a star-shaped piñata. Though the tradition is heavily Mexican and Catholic, Tsai said that one of the great things about the event is that everybody is invited and welcome to participate.

“Even though Una Noche de las Posadas has religious roots and connotations, I think it serves as a great way to bring the community as a whole together,” he said. It takes a community to put on the event, as well, he added. “This event, in particular, takes a village to pull off, and I am extremely grateful for everyone’s participation,” Tsai said. This year’s food was sponsored by Rudy’s Mexican Restaurant and Los Tarascos, and there was also a pop-up featuring vintage and handmade goods and put together by the Mujeres Makers Market.

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