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Gold Rush town hosts Las Posadas for Christmas

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Jeneane Jones

Jared, with help from his father the Rev. Alex Cambe, fills a luminary.
Dec. 14, 2006

A UMNS Feature
By Jeneane Jones*

It's 2 in the afternoon, and Faye Fyock, her short dark hair catching a gust of early December wind, clicks off the items still to be completed before the evening's festivities.

"At three, about 30 people will start making the luminaries," she explains. "The lights will go up around 5:30. We'll gather the angels. We thought we would have a just few, but it's up to 14 now -- everyone wants their child to be in it. We've been getting calls all week."

Faye and husband Bob are members of Sutter Creek United Methodist Church, a part of the historic town of Sutter Creek, Calif., since hard rock miners made it famous during California's Gold Rush.

Downtown Sutter Creek's postcard-ready looks haven't changed much since the 1870s. The white-steepled United Methodist church stands where it was first erected in 1862. "Back then it was the Methodist Episcopal church," says Bill Hepworth, mayor and historian.

The church has played a significant role in the town's Christmas celebrations in the past. This year is no exception. The annual Christmas tree lighting was on the church's front lawn and Bob and Faye Fyock, the reigning Santa and Mrs. Claus, helped transform the church fellowship hall into a Santa-themed photo op for the kids in town.

But they wanted more for their beloved community. So this year, the church offered something special -- its first ever Las Posadas. The event is based on a Hispanic/Latino tradition of re-enacting the journey by Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem.

The Fyocks had seen a Las Posadas in a neighboring community last year, so they talked to their pastor about it. He responded with enthusiasm.

"Words cannot express the excitement we have," says the Rev. Alex Cambe. "We believe that Christmas is not something you see in Wal-Mart or Kmart. There is a spiritual dimension, and that is where the churches can fill in."

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Jeneane Jones

Three angels are ready to lead a Las Posadas procession.
With Cambe's support, the event grew to include the local Episcopal and Catholic churches. Even the mayor of Sutter Creek gave his blessing.

"I'm from Los Angeles and Las Posadas is something I grew up with," Hepworth says. "This is a way of bringing together the entire ethnic community of Sutter Creek. We're proud that the churches approached us to be part of this. Together we're putting Christ back in Christmas."

The celebration of Las Posadas, which translates to "lodging," originated in Spain, according to "Fiesta Cristiana," written by United Methodist Bishop Joel Martínez.

In Mexico, it consists of a ceremonial procession that traditionally takes place Dec. 16-24. Each night for nine days a group of people walk through the streets, stopping at homes where it has been pre- arranged that they would ask for shelter.

The procession stops along the way to sing songs and read from the Gospel story asking for shelter. At each door the group is turned away and not until the ninth night do they finally find shelter arriving at the doors of a church.

Community gathers

Jared Cambe is helping his dad with the luminary assembly line. "It's supposed to be filled but not all the way," explains the 6-year-old.

On this evening, along the aptly named Spanish Street, the luminaries have been set out for the procession that begins at Immaculate Conception Catholic church and continues through the neighborhood, ending at the manger scene on the lawn of Sutter Creek United Methodist Church.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Jeneane Jones

Christmas carols are sung during the Las Posadas procession.
Nine-year-old Alexis Lewis, who will be one of the 14 angels in the procession, says the message behind the story of Mary and Joseph, "is we should be more considerate and try to help each other. That's the right thing to do. If my best friend came to visit, I would find her somewhere to stay. Even if it meant giving up my own bed, then I would give it up."

As the luminaries are lit, families begin making their way to the end of Spanish Street to wait at the steps of the Immaculate Conception church. Joseph, played by Sutter Creek member Joshua Hall leads a donkey, or in this case a mule named Festus carrying Mary, played by 13-year-old Addie Peralta. More than 200 people have begun singing carols and carrying candles.

This version of Las Posadas will only last one night, and there will be stops at only three houses. The crowd moves slowly down the street singing as they go. Joseph and Mary make their first stop. There's a knock at the door of the home. Mike Koepke, the retired fire chief, has agreed to be part of the dramatization and as requested, does not answer.

Mary and Joseph and a growing entourage continue along Spanish Street to two more houses before finally arriving at the manger, complete with sheep and shepherds, in front of Sutter Creek. The crowd, now double in size, is joined by a choir from the community, and time for more carols, as well as refreshments.

Seven-year-old Mason Hall, whose father was Joseph in the night's procession, stands in his Boy Scout uniform, alongside two of the angels from his church. "I was supposed to be selling Christmas trees across the street," he says. "This was actually pretty cool."

*Jones is communications director for California-Nevada Annual (regional) Conference.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or


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