Las Posadas

Students from Carrillo Elementary School perform Las Posadas at the Presidio San Agustin, 196 N. Court Ave., on Dec. 9, 2017, in downtown Tucson, Ariz. The school will perform the 81st Las Posadas procession with music on Friday night.

Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Star

About 14 elementary students sing the lyrics of "Humildes Peregrinos" or "Humble Pilgrims" in the performing arts classroom at Carrillo K-5 School.

Some rock in place, keeping count, as others look at their teacher, Marta Holl, on guitar. 

When the song is over, they smile, knowing they hit each note just right.

"Humildes Peregrinos" is just one song the students will perform on Friday at Las Posadas, a festival that commemorates the journey Mary and Joseph made from Nazareth to Bethlehem in search of a place for Mary to give birth to baby Jesus. 

+4 

Students from Carrillo Elementary School perform Las Posadas at the Presidio San Agustin, 196 N. Court Ave., on Dec. 9, 2017, in downtown Tucson, Ariz. The school will perform the 81st Las Posadas procession with music on Friday night.

Not only are these students learning Biblical stories and traditions, but it also helps some of them learn Spanish.

"A lot don't speak Spanish," said Yvette Hererra, a teacher at Carrillo. "But they learn with the lyrics they sing."

Las Posadas became a Carrillo tradition 81 years ago when teacher Marguerite Collier wanted to connect the culture of many of the school's students to the Tucson community, said Lori Conner, Carillo's principal. 

Though the event is planned and practiced at school, no district funds go toward it, said performing arts teacher Marta Holl.

The event is self-funded by teachers who volunteer to help; parents; and fundraisers specifically for the event.

Teachers, parents and support staff help decorate, sell food, get ready and clean up, Holl said.

"I volunteer my time," Holl said. "I don't get paid for this. Proceeds from food sales go to the next year, so we fund ourselves. It keeps the history going. It really brings the neighborhood together. The Barrio really takes pride in the tradition."

The main event at Las Posadas is a processional from the school through the Barrio Viejo neighborhood symbolizing the search for a safe place for Mary to have her baby.

As the students walk, they sing the songs they've rehearsed for several weeks.

+4 

Students from Carrillo Elementary School perform Las Posadas, seen here carrying the Nacimiento, at the Presidio San Agustin, 196 N. Court Ave., on Dec. 9, 2017, in downtown Tucson, Ariz. The school will perform the 81st Las Posadas procession with music on Friday night.

Each child has a role to play. They dress up as shepherds, peasants and angels. Some carry candles. Others carry bells, a Christmas star, a poinsettia, shepherd's crooks and the nacimiento or nativity. 

Melody Albor, a 10-year-old fifth grader is one of the four nacimiento carriers. It is her second year participating in Las Posadas.

"It's really fun," Melody said. "I like singing and I like how we learn different things."

It is also Anthony Moreno's second year in the performance. The 11-year-old fifth grader is playing the "knocker boy;" which means he will be the one to knock on five doors along the processional route in search of refuge for Joseph and Mary.

"They knocked on four doors and they each said 'no,' but on the fifth door, they said 'yes' and Mary had Jesus," Anthony said. 

There's a lot of practice, the kids say. In fact, they've practiced two to three hours a day four times a week for about nine weeks. But to them, it's worth it.

"It's fun," Melody said. "There are fun songs at the end and you might be picked to be pink and blue angels sooner or later...I'm glad to be in this group because you get to honor baby Jesus' birth."

"I'm sad this is gonna be my last year," Anthony added. 

Following the procession, the kids form a circle and sing five fun songs. The last one is about a pinata. After the final song, one of the students hands out candy to attendees.

+4 

Students from Carrillo Elementary School break the pinata to cap the event as they perform Las Posadas at the Presidio San Agustin, 196 N. Court Ave., on Dec. 9, 2017, in downtown Tucson, Ariz. The school will perform the 81st Las Posadas procession with music on Friday night.

Over the past 81 years, the surrounding neighborhood has embraced the tradition of Las Posadas. People decorate for it and go outside to watch and walk with the kids. 

"It is just so cool. There are hundreds of people and they follow the kids and it's really beautiful," Holl said. "People who were in it 40 or 80 years ago come and you can hear them sing. It brings the neighborhood and the school together."

It also brings new people to the neighborhood each year.

"It's just a beautiful event and every year people introduce themselves and are always amazed by the whole event," Conner said. "I love to see familiar faces, but it's so great to see people from the outside. It gives me chills. It's a very important tradition that needs to continue."

+4 

Students from Carrillo Elementary School carry the Nacimiento as they perform Las Posadas at the Presidio San Agustin, 196 N. Court Ave., on Dec. 9, 2017, in downtown Tucson, Ariz. The school will perform the 81st Las Posadas procession with music on Friday night.

If you go

What: Las Posadas

When: 5 p.m. Friday, Dec. 15

Where: Carrillo K-5 School, 440 S. Main Ave.

Cost: Free. Bring money for food.

More info: Folklorico and mariachi performances, dinner and hot cocoa is at 5 p.m. in the cafeteria. The processional starts at 7 p.m.

Angela Pittenger | This Is Tucson

Families and schools reporter for #ThisIsTucson. Artist, photographer, mother of one.