Pick of the Week

Keeping a Tradition

With all of the construction and change happening downtown these days, it's comforting to know that in the heart of Barrio Viejo, a 70-year-old tradition lives on.

In the 1930s, Marguerite Collier, a teacher at Carrillo Elementary School, 440 S. Main Ave., traveled to Mexico and witnessed the celebration called Las Posadas, Spanish for "the inns" or "lodging." The event is a re-enactment of the pilgrimage of Mary and Joseph as they sought refuge while traveling to Bethlehem. A group of singers go from house to house requesting lodging. They are refused several times until they reach the last home, where they are allowed to enter.

Collier first directed Las Posadas at Carrillo in 1937. A historical text at the school outlines Collier's intent to instill pride and culture in children of Mexican heritage. It began as a part of the school curriculum. Now, 70 years later, children volunteer to be part of Las Posadas and prepare for the procession in the after-school program.

Librarian and reading interventionist Marie Bracamonte has seen an even greater change. "This is such a huge event. Children of all different heritages participate in it now. That's the beauty of it. It expanded beyond what Miss Collier intended. She would be proud."

Bracamonte says that the production of Las Posadas is coordinated by a variety of people, including herself, Principal Ruben Diaz, student council representatives and parents. Approximately 80 children participate in the procession, ranging from kindergarten to fifth-grade students.

Children are dressed in a variety of costumes, ranging from angels to peasants to Mary and Joseph. They carry various props, including a piñata, lanterns, maypoles and nacimiento, or a nativity scene. The procession will start in the courtyard of Carrillo and wind through the neighborhood. Bracamonte anticipates a crowd of 200 to 300 people will attend the event.

Carrillo music teacher Marvin Boyer has been teaching the children songs for Las Posadas. He says Cindy Rinehart will lead the group while playing a guitar. Rinehart is a former Carrillo music teacher.

Boyer says during the procession, participants sing a song asking if they may come in to the home. Another song is sung to say they may not. This is repeated four times until, at the fifth house, a new song welcomes them into the courtyard of the home. The children sing approximately 12 songs during the procession.

This year's celebration will honor people who have been involved with Las Posadas over the years. "There will be a tribute to Miss Collier. Former students will receive the tribute on her behalf. And there will be a tribute to past principals, coordinators and people who have allowed (the procession) through their homes. This year, there is a tribute to all the people who have kept the tradition going," says Bracamonte.

For those who wish to take a visual look at the tradition, the neighboring La Pilita Museum, at 420 S. Main Ave., is exhibiting photographs from past Las Posadas processions through Friday, Dec. 21.

The exhibit contains approximately 60 photographs, donated by past participants, the Arizona Historical Society and former Las Posadas coordinator Betty Segerstrom. Segerstrom took over after Collier retired.

"The photographs go back to the 1930s and include some taken at last year's procession. More and more people who are in their 60s and 70s come in and name people in the photographs. A woman came in recently and found her sister in a photograph taken in the 1950s," says education/development director Joan E. Daniels.

"Las Posadas is very much a family affair. It (continues) in the honor of all the people who participated and kept the cultural tradition alive from back in the '30s to those who fought to keep the tradition going today," she says.

Boyer agrees that the tradition is an important one. "People are thrilled to know that it is still going. It means so much for the people who live in the Barrio."

The 70th anniversary of Tucson's Las Posadas procession takes place at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 18, starting at Carrillo Elementary School, 440 S. Main Ave. Food will be served beginning at 5 p.m. At 6 p.m., a tribute ceremony to the late Marguerite Collier and others takes place. After the procession, the celebration continues back at the school with a piñata. La Pilita Museum, 420 S. Main Ave., will be open from 5 to 8 p.m. that evening. Call 225-1200 to reach Carrillo Elementary. Call 882-7454 or visit the La Pilita Web site for more information about the photo exhibit and museum.