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Spanish choir director of St. Catherine's of Siena church Sandra Canadanosa, of Concord, with John Muir National Historic Site volunteer Rhonda Beatty-Gallo, of Martinez, and Anza Trail park ranger Hale Sargent stand on the porch of the Martinez Adobe building in Martinez, Calif., on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013. Canadanosa is helping bring back Las Posadas event on Dec. 14 from 2:30 - 4:40 p.m. The National Park Service would like this event to raise awareness of the bilingual Anza Trail exhibit in the Martinez Adobe on the grounds of the John Muir National Historic Site. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

MARTINEZ -- Several years may have passed but the sights and sounds of Las Posadas still linger in Sandra Candanosa's memory.

She remembers growing up in Mexico City and that from a young age, she attended Las Posadas, a religious custom traditionally celebrated in Spanish-speaking countries for nine days leading to Christmas.

"When I was young, my parents would take us kids to Las Posadas since we were babies," said Candanosa, a resident of Martinez since the early 1980s. "We would visit a different house each evening for nine days to pray and sing villancicos (Christmas carols)."

As young children, Candanosa said she and her brothers and sisters may not have initially understood the meaning behind Las Posadas, but they do remember the sweet treats, the songs, the colorful papel picado (perforated paper), and of course, every child's favorite -- the traditional piñata.

Years later, when Candanosa moved to the United States, she, her sister and members of St. Catherine of Siena in Martinez began their own Las Posadas tradition at the John Muir National Historic Site in the early 1980s. Health issues plagued Candanosa and her sister, and they ceased the traditional holiday offering after a few years -- until now.

Las Posadas will be returning to Martinez on Dec. 14, with a procession and singing of traditional Spanish Christmas carols that begins at the John Muir House and make its way toward and culminate at the Martinez Adobe.

When Hale Sargent, National Park Service interpretive specialist, sought more information about the history of Las Posadas at the Martinez Adobe, Rhonda Beatty-Gallo, a John Muir volunteer told Sargent about Candanosa. Soon talks about bringing Las Posadas back to the Martinez Adobe became reality.

"I would hear people say, 'Why not bring Las Posadas back?'" said Beatty-Gallo. "It's a holiday festival for all. You don't have to be Spanish-speaking to enjoy it."

Las Posadas keeps the younger generation in touch with their heritage, Candanosa said. Youth members and members of the Spanish-speaking choir of St. Catherine of Siena's church will be participating in the procession and singing. Choir members will also provide guitar, accordion and percussion music.

In traditional Las Posadas pageantry, the young woman playing Mary in the re-enactment of Joseph and Mary's search for a birthplace for Jesus, a real donkey was used for Mary to ride on. Candanosa said that a real mule will be used in place of a donkey at the procession.

"I'm trying to keep the traditional alive," said Candanosa.

Beatty-Gallo will lead a series of activities for children, including making papel picado and making poinsettias out of tissue paper.

A highlight of Las Posadas is when children gather to break the piñata. The breaking of the piñata, which traditionally has seven points to represent the seven sins, symbolized eradicating any wrongdoing.

But in the contemporary version of the tradition, young participants of Las Posadas will attempt to break the piñata just for fun. The one used in this year's event is authentic: Sargent himself found in Alamos, in the Mexican state of Sonora.

The National Park Service would like to raise awareness of the bilingual Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail exhibit in the Martinez Adobe on the grounds of the John Muir National Historic Site, said Sargent.

"This fun and educational event connects the faith and traditions introduced by the Spanish to the Bay Area in 1776 with the diverse traditions we celebrate today," he said.

"The piñata was found at the beginning of the Anza trail and we are celebrating with that piñata at the end of the Anza trail," Beatty-Gallo said. "This is a wonderful way for everyone to share a traditional custom and a look at another way to celebrate the Christmas tradition."

if you go
WHAT: Las Posadas
WHEN: 2:30-4:30 p.m. Dec. 14
WHERE: Martinez Adobe at the John Muir National Historic Site, 4202 Alhambra Ave., Martinez
COST: Free
INFORMATION: www.nps.gov/jomu/index.htm