About 50 adults and children from the Edith & Carrie neighborhood came together for their annual Christmas celebration at Carrie Center, a community gathering place built by Blue Mountain Action Council (BMAC) in 2015.
Three neighborhoods are part of BMAC’s Commitment to Community (C2C) program, which helps build capacity so these neighborhoods thrive and succeed. The neighborhoods have over the years developed a special style of Christmas celebration planned each year by neighborhood leaders. What makes the Edith & Carrie celebration unique is a Posada procession that was started last year by Emmanuel Lomeli, a neighborhood leader who was instrumental in organizing this year’s event, too. La Posada is a Mexican Christmas tradition reenacting Mary and Joseph wandering the streets, going door to door asking for shelter, only to be turned away, until one door is opened and they are welcomed in. Of course, the open door is supposed to be at Carrie Center.
Asked why he started La Posada in his neighborhood, Emmanuel pointed out that he wants his children to know the real meaning of Christmas, which is all about sharing with the community, not just Santa and gifts.
This year was special because Maria Ayala, a neighborhood leader and active member of the choir at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, was able to book Heraclio Torres, her choirmaster and an accomplished guitarist, for the event.
Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate and neighbors had to quickly think of a plan B for the procession. Instead of walking the streets, actors representing Mary and Joseph, and most of the Spanish-speaking neighbors, braved the cold and rain outside in front of Carrie Center to sing their Spanish Posada verses. The mostly English-speaking participants, including a group of fire fighters and police officers, stayed indoors and tried on a different kind of bravery: group singing. They, some neighbors and some public school officials sang the Posada responses in English. At the end, the wet and hungry pilgrims were welcomed into the warm space, a potluck their reward. Much to the displeasure of some of the children, everybody had to earn the delicious meal by first singing a few traditional American Christmas songs, in both English and Spanish, again to the masterful accompaniment of Heraclio Torres.
About half an hour into the celebration, a loud noise came from the door, as Santa Claus made his grand entrance. After sitting down on a special chair by the Christmas tree, Santa welcomed each child with a small gift bag and a stuffed animal. Some adults also got in line in order to have their picture taken with Santa. The stuffed animals and a special Chinese potluck dish were generously donated by Panda Express, where Emmanuel Lomeli works as a manager.
Walla Walla Police Department’s Vicki Ruley and Wanda Galland, who have become regulars at neighborhood celebrations, generously contributed items to the children’s gift bags and helped the organizers find an authentic looking Santa Claus, retired police officer Jim Romine.
At the height of the celebration, all tables and chairs were occupied. There was standing room only, but visitors, including City Council Members Steve Moss and Yazmin Bahena, Parks & Recreation Director Andy Coleman, and other city officials, used the opportunity to mingle and chat with neighbors.
Neighborhood Outreach Organizer Ursula Volwiler was extremely happy with the turnout and felt that the planning committee’s hard work had paid off. Each member had invited neighbors and friends, and as a final effort, Emmanuel had gone door-to-door reminding everybody in the Edith & Carrie neighborhood, making a point to say that Santa would be there.
James Powell, a former neighborhood leader who still helps organize Edith & Carrie events and attends them regularly, felt that this event went beyond the surface meaning of a potluck and that the people of the neighborhood truly came together and were engaged. Volwiler confirmed that this was the first time for some residents to participate in a neighborhood potluck, and they saw how much fun it is. Volwiler plans to follow up with residents and gather ideas for neighborhood projects and activities for the coming year.