For Catholic Latinos, the Christmas season means not just one or two nights of celebration and prayer, but several. The unofficial start for many Latinos is December 8, a holiday that honors the Virgin Mary.
And while customs vary from country to country, some have crossed borders and have become loved by many in the diaspora.
During nine evenings in December, the parishioners of Sainte-Marie-du-Lac Catholic Church take to the streets of Buena Park to seek shelter from their neighbors.
“It’s a beautiful sharing of culture and even for, I think, our immigrant community which often feels really not welcome like Joseph and Marie to see other people who are not of our culture open their doors to a Mexican tradition, ”says St. Mary of Lake Father Manny Dorantes. “It just shows how our faith is able to transcend culture and this beautiful sharing is happening, which is what we call community.”
Parishioners observe Las Posadas, a Catholic tradition that commemorates the journey Joseph and Mary made as they sought a refuge where Mary could give birth to the baby Jesus. The tradition originated in Mexico as a way for the Catholic Church to evangelize indigenous peoples. Las Posadas are observed in Mexico with a procession led by parishioners dressed as Mary and Joseph visiting houses designated as inns, or posadas. The parish of Sainte-Marie-du-Lac has adapted the tradition with a procession through the church district.
“We knock on a neighbor’s door and then we ask, in the name of God, reliving what Joseph did, would you like to accommodate Mary? And then there’s a response from inside the house, they’re like ‘go away, don’t bother us’ which is exactly what [Joseph and Mary] lived. “
The procession ends when the pilgrims are welcomed inside, and a celebration begins.
A beloved element of this celebration is a steaming pot of homemade ponche brimming with flavors of Mexico in December – cinnamon, guava, and cheekbone-like tejocote. In Sainte-Marie-du-Lac, the ponche is made by the Esparza family.
The Esparzas have been parishioners of Sainte-Marie-du-Lac for over 40 years. Consuelo Esparza learned to ponche in her native Mexico.
“I remember the flavor when my grandmother did the ponche, I was maybe seven years old when I started to do the ponche”, recalls Consuelo. “And now my grandsons, they love ponche!”
Consuelo Esparza passed on the family recipe to her daughter Aileen to continue the tradition.
“Even though I was born here, my son was born here, they still appreciate this tradition,” said Aileen. “It’s something everyone is looking forward to.”
Bro. Dorantes says that the parish of Sainte-Marie-du-Lac, which combined with Saint-Lourdes earlier this year, is delighted to meet again after taking off 2020 due to the ongoing pandemic.
“We have one of the most diverse Catholic parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago. We have people from Africa, Asia, Latin America, and now our young white urban professionals moving into the neighborhood, ”says Dorantes. “What I have found is that the community here in Buena Park is quite open to all the traditions and the richness of our culture and our faith, and I think those traditions of Christmas and in preparation for Christmas allow us to come together precisely to remember that we belong to each other, that we are brothers and sisters, that you just haven’t experienced isolation yourself, I have experienced it too, haven’t you ? And come together once again to recognize the beauty and dignity of human life as we enter into these conversations and celebrations with one another. “
Sainte-Marie-du-Lac welcomes all those who wish to join services throughout the Christmas period.