We speak lovingly and fondly of tradition during the few weeks that round out the year, but very often we're referencing what our own family does, in our own kitchen and den and living room, with gifts and cards and meals and such.
Which is a beautiful thing, of course, but traditions can be honored and enjoyed among people who have never met. Those communal comings-together find a moving zenith each December in Las Posadas, a song-filled processional that is marked from San Antonio to Santa Fe to LA and well into Mexico.
The ballads sung are Spanish and English, the people at the lead of the walk are Mary and Joseph, and the whole play, which frequently involves audience members and participants following behind, is about the search for an inn in Bethlehem. Many a community presents it on Christmas Eve, but Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles commemorates Las Posadas over several nights.
What to do, where to go and what to see
The nightly happening is on through Wednesday, Dec. 24, and even if you don't know the words to the long-sung, story-centered songs, you are invited to walk or watch. People representing Mary and Joseph will cover much of the stall-lined marketplace, and admiring in the soft candlelight of evening is something people have done during Las Posadas in many cities for many, many years.
Years? Centuries, actually.
A pinata is hung at the Olvera Street celebration each night, and then smashed with much glee and precision, by kids visiting the seasonal gathering. Also? Pan dulce and the warming drink champurrado are served gratis, and the historic thoroughfare takes on a festive mien. (Well, truly, Olvera always has a festive mien, but see it at Christmas.)
The cost to attend? It's free. The time each night through Christmas Eve? Be there from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.