By 6 p.m. last night, a winter chill had already set over Half Moon Bay and its surrounding areas, but that didn't stop about 100 people from participating in the Moonridge Housing Complex's holiday posada -- a Latin American tradition that recreates the journey of Mary and Joseph where groups sing throughout a neighborhood from house to house and ask to be let in from the cold, but are turned away.
Like Mary and Joseph, who were finally received at an inn in Bethlehem, the group walked around the complex singing and arrived at an inn of their own: Moonridge's main community center, which served a dinner consisting of traditional posole, a stew made of pork, white beans, and cabbage; tamales handmade that morning; pan dulce, or sweet bread; and champurrado, a hot drink made out of corn and chocolate.
White teardrop lights strung down from the tops of the terraces surrounding the community center area were accented with red lights twisted in the shape of candy canes. Holiday signs reading "Fiesta" and a hand-drawn sign inside the room where the dinner was being served that read "Feliz Navidad y Prospero Año Nuevo" created a special holiday atmosphere.
A children's choir entertained the crowd by singing about a dozen or so Christmas carols and songs, including "Feliz Navidad," using red homemade carol books as their primers. Some wore festive Santa hats. Others held shiny staffs with with silver bristles at the end. Another group of children had fun watching the choir and moved along to the music.
Ninfa Patino had walked along for the posada earlier that evening, wearing a warm white coat and high-heeled black boots, which meant that she couldn't walk as fast as the others. "I had a fun time," she said, "especially with the kids, when one of the girls asked me if she could try my shoes on." Patino said that she was planning to let the girls try her shoes on later that evening for fun.
Ramon Sonoqui and his wife Guadalupe were there volunteering for the event. The Sonoquis, among the first families to move in to Moonridge when it opened, have stayed active in the community. While Guadalupe helped with the food preparation and served champurrado (a hot drink resembling hot chocolate made out of corn and chocolate) and champurrado blanco (white champurrado), Ramon was busy throughout the evening helping to make sure there were enough cups on hand, to dancing with the kids, to helping set up the piñata for the children.
A DJ spun both English and Spanish-language favorites to the delight of the dancing crowd. Sometimes, the two were combined, such as when the familiar notes of a Spanish-language version of "Achy Breaky Heart" wafted over the sound system, inspiring the older children to start a line dancing demonstration. The younger children emulated the moves successfully and with confidence.
Veronica Jimenez, Half Moon Bay resident, was there with her two children, husband, and mother-in-law. Jimenez said her family was there because her mother-in-law, a Moonridge resident, asked if they could join her for the celebration. "I didn't know that it was going on until she asked us to come over," Jimenez said, "but it's great to be here. Even though I don't know people here, I've been welcomed."
Sitting with her son at the dinner table, 14-year-old Joaquin, Jimenez watched the crowd dancing, laughing, and enjoying each others' company. "It's nice to have the kids here and have a traditional event with no alcohol needed or wanted," she said.
Jimenez, who is Mexican American and grew up in Oregon, explained that this posada was part of a group of events celebrating the Virgin of Guadalupe's birthday which will take place on Dec. 12. "The Virgin of Guadalupe is Mexico's version of the Virgin Mary," Jimenez said, speaking to the importance of this day among Mexico's Catholic population.
Half Moon Bay will celebrate the Virgin's birthday on the 12th as well, said Patino, outside the Our Lady of the Pillar church downtown. It will start very early in the morning -- "around 4 or 5 am," she said.
After dinner, a Dora the Explorer piñata in the shape of a star was brought out to the excitement of the many children. Each child tried with all their might to catch the piñata and give it a hit -- hopefully forcefully enough to get the candy to spill out.
A circle of onlookers gathered around to watch. Against the dark night sky, the piñata shimmered as different angles of its silver-tipped edges were exposed to the light. Children clamored for a turn, raising their hands high in the air and clustering around Ramon Sonoqui so that he would pick them next. Even some adults got into the act and took a turn.
By the time the last swing of the stick punctured the piñata and spilled out the candy -- causing a low-level pandemonium as children swarmed forward to pick up the pieces from the ground -- it had started to rain. People embraced, said goodnight to each other, and left the party, presumably for the warmth and shelter of their own home.
The piñata's sweet release was the perfect ending to a peaceful night.
Another posada will be held this Saturday, Dec. 11, at the Main St. Housing Complex (1101 Main St.), 6 pm. All are welcome. For more information, call 650.560.0197.