Latin American Christmas tradition brough to Woodburn's downtown business front

PHIL HAWKINS - Woodburn carolers sang up and down the downtown business corridor on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.Las Posadas is a Latin American Christmas tradition that can take on many forms. In English, the word posada is used to describe a hotel or inn — a place of refuge for travelers — and when associated with the Christmas holiday, is meant to bring to mind the plight of Mary and Joseph seeking lodging in Bethlehem before the birth of Jesus Christ.

But according to Woodburn Community Relations Manager Gustavo Gutierrez-Gomez, Las Posadas has grown beyond its original religious definition over the years and can be celebrated in a variety of ways within the Latinx community.

"It has taken a life of its own," Gutierrez-Gomez said. "Many schools and many neighborhoods in Central and South America do Posadas and they all have their own take. It does not have to be with the church."

In a sense, he said, Las Posadas is a community potluck, inviting people to gather in celebration in the days leading up to Christmas with food, gifts, candy, caroling and more.

Over the weekend, hundreds of community members gathered in downtown Woodburn to celebrate Las Posadas on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings, serenading businesses with Christmas music.

Traditionally, the event takes place in an entire neighborhood, where different homes host guests and neighbors in the nights leading up to Christmas. Carolers go out singing from home to home, collecting candy or money that is then placed in a piñata at the end of the evening for the children to share.

PHIL HAWKINS - Children were given free stuffed animals prior to singing downtown, where businesses offered complimentary treats before the group returned to finish the night with a piñata.
With Woodburn's Posadas taking on a more business-friendly tone, the event was a joint venture between the city of Woodburn, the Woodburn Downtown Association, Chemeketa Community College, AWARE Food Bank, Oregon Health Insurance Marketplace and dozens of downtown businesses, which participated by inviting carolers into their storefronts, and, for many, provided complimentary treats.

"At one time we had 80 people inside Luis's Taqueria," Gutierrez-Gomez said. "There were customers who actually came up and started singing."

He estimated more than 200 people were present for Saturday's event, which began at AWARE Food Bank before spilling out into the streets to celebrate. Santana's restaurant provided horchata, El Tule gave out arroz con leche, Luis's served tamales.

Those who stayed behind welcomed back the carolers at the end of the evening and celebrated with the opening of the piñata. Originally, the event was scheduled to have just one more date on Dec. 22, but because it was so successful, Gutierrez-Gomez said organizers and hosts will be planning on doing it once more across all three nights this week.

Lupita's will host on Friday, while El Mercadito will serve as the meeting point on Saturday. The finale of the celebration will take place at Herbalife on Sunday. All three nights will be from 6 to 8 p.m.

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