From the Back Pew: Christmas, Latino-style

Next week, the community of the Church of the Incarnation in Glendale will host the church's annual posadas.

And if you don't know what that is, let me explain.

Las Posadas is an annual celebration held in some Catholic churches that symbolizes the struggle Mary and Joseph had in finding a place to spend the night on the evening that became Christmas Eve. The story goes that Mary and Joseph were forced to stay in a barn after being unable to find suitable shelter on their arrival in Bethlehem, the birth-place of Christ.

The way Las Posadas traditionally works is a group of people will arrive at a home in a neighborhood near the church and seek posada, Spanish for shelter. The hosts will invite the people in, where they will proceed to have refreshments, sing carols, hit a piñata and enjoy each other's company. The process is repeated the next night and the next, for as many nights as the church wishes to have posadas; posadas typically don't go past nine nights.

These days, posadas are usually held at the church itself and for one night only, although there is still a procession of people, as will happen at Incarnation on Dec. 18. The procession will begin at the church after the 5:30 p.m. Mass and end in the auditorium. You can register for the church's posada after all Masses this weekend, as the church needs to know how many people will be coming.

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This week St. Bede's in La Cañada will host its annual celebration of the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, with mañanitas, a procession and Mass taking place bright and early at 6 a.m. This year's celebration is unique in that it falls on a Sunday. As such, St. Bede's will be holding its celebration early in the morning, instead of the evening, to avoid interfering with that day's Masses.

As always, there will be tasty food to complement such a celebration, including sweet bread, champurrado (a heavenly, chocolate-based hot drink — perfect for a cold morning), tamales (at least 400 are being made) and coffee, said St. Bede Guadalupanas ministry chairwoman Angie Prime.

Although St. Bede doesn't have a large Spanish-speaking demographic, it does have Spanish-speaking parishioners of Latino descent who grew up with traditions like honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe on her feast day, said Prime. The fifth annual event on Sunday is being held to highlight the rich cultural soup that is St. Bede's, said Prime. After all, St. Bede's is home to Koreans, Italians and Filipinos, to name a few, each with their own distinct way of celebrating Christmas.

"We want to remind people that there is a richness in the Hispanic culture," said Prime. "Of course, Our Lady of Guadalupe, even though she appears in Mexico, she is actually Our Lady of the Americas."

Indeed, one of the names Guadalupe is known as is patroness of the Americas, so her image and message is all-inclusive for people in the American continent, not just Mexico.

The service will include children dressed in traditional costumes processing to the church and offering flowers to Our Lady, and a troupe of nine mariachis (so if you live in La Cañada and wake up to the blare of trumpets Sunday morning, you'll know what's going on).

Las mañanitas is a serenade to Our Lady meant to honor her. It usually starts with, "Estas son las mañanitas que cantaba el Rey David / Hoy por ser día de tu santo, te las cantamos a ti." In other words, "This is the morning song that King David sang / Because today is your saint's day we're singing it for you."

Sounds better in Spanish, doesn't it?

"Las mañanitas is another way of celebrating the Virgin," said St. Bede's parishioner Helen Gilstrap.

MICHAEL J. ARVIZU writes for the La Cañada Valley Sun. Reach him at (818) 637-3263 or e-mail michael.arvizu@latimes.com.

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