An old tradition debuted at St. Mary of the Mills [Old Town Laurel]

Laurel Leader

A new twist on an old tradition made its debut in the neighborhood the week before Christmas when the Spanish-speaking community of St. Mary of the Mills Catholic Church observed Las Posadas.

The nine-night celebration is a Mexican tradition that dates back more than four centuries and honors Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging (“posada” in Spanish) in Bethlehem as they prepare for the birth of Jesus. Conventional Las Posadas observances are held for nine consecutive nights and feature families – often in costume – walking from door to door in a town seeking accommodations and being denied before finally being admitted at a designated house. Then Christmas carols are sung, children play games and refreshments are enjoyed.

The St. Mary’s Hispanic community adapted Las Posadas this year by gathering each evening from Dec. 15 to Dec. 23 at a different location around Laurel. The spots included the Main Street Post Office, Regal Laurel Towne Centre theater, McDonald’s, 7-11, Pollo Campero and Megamart. They serenaded passersby with Christmas carols and invited those they met to attend Mass at St. Mary’s. Then the group went to a parishioner’s home for refreshments and a lesson for children.

At least 20 people attended each night and one night included about 60 participants, said. Rev. Philip Ilg, the parochial vicar at St. Mary’s who heads Hispanic ministry there.

“They were pretty surprised by it,” Ilg said, of the crowds that encountered the group. “It built unity within the existing Spanish-speaking community.”

That community is growing at St. Mary’s, he said, enough to prompt the parish to move its weekly Spanish Mass to 2 p.m. on Sundays beginning on Jan. 7. It had previously been at 6:45 p.m., which was inconvenient for many churchgoers, especially those with children.

Ilg said he hopes the Las Posadas tradition will take root here in Laurel.

“We’ll do it again next year for sure,” he said.

There are several opportunities for family fun offered by the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation this winter.

Free Friday Indoor Movies return next Friday, Jan. 12, with a screening of the 2015 live-action version of “Cinderella.” The animated film “Smurfs: The Lost Village” will play on Friday, Feb. 9. Both movies will be shown at 7 p.m. at Partnership Hall, 811 Fifth St.

Family Fun Nights featuring games and friendly competition will be held Jan. 5, 19 and 26; Feb. 2, 16 and 23; and March 2, 9, 16, 23 and 30 from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the Armory, 422 Montgomery St. Youth must have a pass and adults are free with youth admission. The fee without a pass is $5. For more information, contact the parks and recreation department at 301-725-7800.

I cannot close this column without paying tribute to its inaugural author, Melanie Dzwonchyk. As you may know, Melanie began her well-deserved retirement this week after 43 years in newspapers. Her 22-year stint at The Leader began when she instituted the Old Town neighborhood column while still home raising her kids. I’ve had the good fortune of knowing Melanie for about 18 months; many of you readers have known her for much longer. Her dedication to this neighborhood and this newspaper have made our community a better place to live, and I know I am not alone in my gratitude to her for that. Thank you, Melanie, and congratulations!

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