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Traditional Mexican holiday celebrated

December 20, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - With close attention and a little imagination Sunday in Martinsburg, you could have taken a trip south, way down south, for Christmas.

And the authentic Mexican cuisine helped you get there.

Because of the growing Hispanic population in the Eastern Panhandle, a group of six United Methodist churches in Martinsburg decided to put on their version of a traditional Mexican Christmas celebration Sunday afternoon.

It was called Las Posadas, and in Mexico, it's a big event.

The celebration is meant to commemorate Mary and Joseph's cold and difficult journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem in search of shelter, according to Marybeth Grove, Sunday school superintendent at Trinity United Methodist Church.

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Not only is the celebration popular in Mexico, but it is also a big event in Arizona, New Mexico, southern California and other regions in the southwest United States, where large numbers of Hispanics live, organizers of the event said.

In some communities, Las Posadas is celebrated over nine days leading up to Christmas, said Ellen Murphy of Otterbein United Methodist Church in Martinsburg.

In Las Posadas, characters portraying Mary and Joseph pass through communities, knocking on doors and asking for shelter. They are turned away several times before finally finding refuge.

On Sunday, about 60 people followed Mary, being portrayed by Diane Grove, and Joseph, portrayed by Jose Garillo, through parts of downtown Martinsburg.

They knocked on doors at the Rescue Mission and at churches. People participating in the walk stationed at the churches answered the doors, turning away Mary and Joseph.

Some in the crowd carried "furolitos," which are candles inside glass lanterns. The lanterns are carried on the end of long poles.

"We tried to be authentic as possible," Grove said.

When Mary and Joseph reached Trinity United Methodist Church at 220 W. Martin St., they finally received an invitation.

The crowd then joined Mary and Joseph for a feast of Mexican cuisine and children scurried for treats from a broken piata - traditional activities in a Mexican Las Posadas celebration.

Roger Engle of Martinsburg said he was glad to see something different for a change.

"It was an interesting change of pace for things around here," said Engle, who came along for the trek with his wife, Gula.

There was irony in the celebration, too.

As the story goes in Las Posadas, Mary and Joseph push through snow and cold weather to find shelter.

As Sunday's group wound through Martinsburg, cold winds blew, a precursor to snow that was expected.

"It gave you an appreciation for what tired travelers feel like," said Nancy Fizer of Martinsburg, who made the walk with her 8-year-old daughter, Sarah.

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