Finding Las Posadas (Shelter) At Mary Baldwin

December 9, 2004

Mary Baldwin faculty, staff, students and their families came together on a blustery December night to revive a multicultural college tradition celebrating seasonal holidays from around the world.

Andrea Cornett-Scott, dean of African American and multicultural affairs, started planning months in advance to re-establish the Las Posadas celebration. The traditional Mexican holiday, roughly translated into “shelter,” features a re-enactment of Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter for the birth of Jesus. The event has been absent from Mary Baldwin for a few years due primarily to scheduling conflicts.

“[Las Posadas at Mary Baldwin] is so important because it not only highlights the Latin celebrations but also the traditions of some of the other cultural groups on campus,” Cornett-Scott said of her reason for keeping the tradition alive. “I was just not willing to let it drop.”

Student representatives from college organizations such as Latinas Unidas, the Black Student Alliance, and the Student Government Association stepped up this year to help plan and organize the event.

CHILDREN LEARN TO PLAY THE DREIDEL GAMEThe quest for shelter began in the Center for The Program for the Exceptionally Gifted with a Chanukah celebration. While Kamille Misewicz ’07 taught children how to play the dreidel game, she explained how latkes – traditional Jewish potato pancakes – cook in oil to symbolize the miracle of oil burning for eight days. Then the crowd focused on Maize Jacobs-Brichford ’06 as she told the ancient story about the origin of Chanukah. The group witnessed menorah lighting and heard a Jewish folk song in Hebrew before continuing their journey into the night to find shelter along a path lit by flickering candles.

Pilgramage proceeds to another stop“My favorite aspect of the event was probably the luminaria,” Jacobs-Brichford said. “I find the little candles in the bags have a very calming effect.”

This effect guided more than 70 pilgrims who followed Mary and Joseph – played by 4-year-old Victoria Brunson and 7-year-old Marquis Brunson. As part of the tradition at Mary Baldwin, organizers try to have relatives of faculty or staff act as Mary and Joseph, Cornett-Scott said. Following each stop, Cornett-Scott or her husband, Mary Baldwin professor and associate dean Edward Scott, read from the Bible to forecast the next resting place.

The second stop brought travelers to Spencer residence hall, which was transformed into the North Pole by popular Christmas music and decorations. Members of the Student Government Association judicial board and executive committee staged a Christmas dance complete with a toy soldier (a uniformed cadet from the Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership), a ballerina, and – who else? – Santa. “They were so eager to do it,” Cornett-Scott said of the groups’ participation. “The choreographed dance they performed took things to another level.”

After leaving the North Pole, the pilgrims ate candy canes shared by Santa’s helpers and moved to the opposite end of Spencer to learn about Kwanzaa, an African American celebration of cultural values. Members of the Black Student Alliance and the Ida B. Wells society lit candles and explained the importance of unity, an essential African value. Presenters engaged the audience in a traditional chant and invited everyone to the Kwanzaa celebration in January.

Still finding no shelter, everyone journeyed on to an Italian celebration in Woodson residence hall. The stop featured a skit of the old-world Italian story of La Befana – a benevolent witch who brings toys to children. Travelers feasted on pastries made with raisins and other dried fruit.

As the night grew darker and the air more chilly, the procession wound its way to Miller Chapel for an African Christmas demonstration. Members of the African Student Kollective told a story of how colonization affected the way Africans celebrated the holiday; another translated the story into pigeon-English, a common African-based dialect. The group distributed necklaces and dessert.

“I really liked [the African] stop,” said Sofiya Fedushenko ’05, who participated as a Hebrew singer at the Chanukah stop. “They had fun music and it was fascinating to hear one of the students speak in an African dialect. I also really liked the African dessert, a pastry with banana-type filling.”

Lively music welcomed the pilgrims up the hill to the Caribbean Christmas shelter. Students from the Caribbean Students Association told stories and jokes in a Caribbean dialect and created a fun-loving environment in the Student Activities Center Club Room.

Students enjoy the Mexican Las Posdas stopAt each stop, student actors told the group “I’m sorry, but you can’t stay here,” and ushered them onward until they reached the seventh and final “shelter,” representing the Mexican celebration of Christ’s birth. Two Hispanic students dressed in red and pink layered skirts read a dialogue in Spanish and then in English to commemorate the end of the search for shelter. Afterward, travelers followed Mary and Joseph toward a stage heaped with straw in the Student Activities Center. More than 70 voices joined together to sing “Silent Night” to conclude the re-enactment.

“I enjoyed it,” said Ivy Arbul