One of my favorite Albuquerque memories is walking along the luminaria-lined streets of Barelas through a light snowfall, following the Las Posadas de Barelas nativity and enjoying the sounds of Christmas carols sung in Spanish and English. My two children, dressed up as an angel and a shepherd, were old enough to carry their candles without setting themselves on fire, and young enough to take heed of mom’s words about the dangers of mixing candlefire with horseplay.
In case you are not familiar with Las Posadas, it is a Hispanic tradition that reenacts the travels of Jose y Maria prior to the birth of Jesus, with the nativity procession moving from door to door in search of shelter. Carolers sing traditional Spanish songs seeking shelter, followed by the residents of the house and their guests denying this request. The procession continues to the next house in hopes of finding shelter, and at the last location, Sacred Heart Church, the doors are thrown wide open and everyone enters (except the burro, who always refuses).
Most of the Barelas households on the Las Posadas route participate every year, decorating their home with strings of lights and luminarias, and hosting parties on the night of Las Posadas. When the procession arrives, partygoers spill out of the brightly lit homes singing their parts in this age old ritual, which dates back to the 1500s when it was brought to the New World by the Spanish. It is uncertain when Las Posadas was first done in Barelas, a neighborhood that has its roots in the seventeenth century, but we do know that it has been an official event in Barelas for 62 years, thanks to the efforts of Patrick Turrieta and many others too numerous to name.
Las Posadas de Barelas is one of two times a year where my many worlds collide here in Albuquerque. It is one of the many reasons I love this city, and Barelas in particular.
On this night I see my next-door neighbors, friends from organization boards and commissions that I’ve served with over the years, my family members, people from the NM Deaf community, parents from long gone soccer teams that my children once played on, and fellow artists, writers, actors and musicians from Barelas and points beyond.
I bump into teachers from my children’s schools both past and present, former River Rangers, homeschoolers and unschoolers, and cherished bioethicist/philosopher friends and colleagues from UNM. I have conversations in English, American Sign Language, and Spanish, and sometimes a mixture of the three as I introduce friends dear to my heart to each other.
Each year we invite some of our friends to join us in this neighborhood tradition, creating memories that remain long after the event has passed. I remember introducing my Austrian friend Gabi to Las Posadas, and her crows of delight at the familiar sound of polka rhythms in the live ranchero music played at the Barelas Community Center celebration after our walk through the neighborhood.
I remember jostling through the crowd to get closer to my dear friend Brenda Hollingsworth-Marley so that I could hear every word of her beautiful rich alto singing voice. (And in case you would like to hear her too, she will be performing at the Q Bar in Hotel Albuquerque on 4 January 2007 from 6-9pm). And I remember watching my buddies from the Hearing Loss Association of Albuquerque fiddle with the settings on their cochlear implants and hearing aids so they too, could reap this benefit!
I remember my Jewish friend from Jerusalem peppering me with questions about the significance and symbolism of everything from the farolitos to the order of the procession. And I remember one bitter cold posadas night some years ago when my signing deaf friends joined us and our fingers froze like popsicles mid-sentence.
I remember one year when Las Posadas was almost cancelled, and watching powerhouse Bareleña Dolly Sanchez de Rivera standing at the entrance of the Barelas Community Center, greeting almost everyone by name and marshalling them into helping out in some way, somehow. I remember sotto voce conversations with my Belgian neighbor about her childhood Christmas memories and the importance of creating community and raising our children to be of Barelas and not apart from it.
I remember seeing my neighbor Adam, a young baseball-addicted teenager, transformed as Joseph and walking with pride alongside a very stubborn burro carrying another neighborhood teen portraying Mary. And of course, I remember the stalwart women of Barelas who return to the community center each year to serve hot chocolate and biscochitos to the crowd as we wait for the program to begin in the Indian Room.
This Saturday we will be doing our part for Barelas, making and setting up luminarias along the walking path, helping the children of Barelas clamber into their costumes, and passing out candles and bilingual song sheets.
Las Posadas de Barelas is on December 22, 2007. It begins and ends at the Barelas Community Center at 801 Barelas Road SW. The procession begins at 6 pm sharp, followed by refreshments and the Fiesta de Navidad, which ends at 10 pm. Dress warmly, and bring candles and flashlights. All are welcome.