Las Posadas procession waits outside Pig&Pie to be let in.

First published Dec. 20 at 6 a.m.

Consider the story of Mary and Joseph: a young couple with minimal rental history and a meager carpenter income move to a new city  to find that an influx of new tenants make for an insanely competitive rental market. Finding no vacancies, and with a baby on the way, they instead make due with a temporary AirBnB rental in a shabby in-law unit in an bartender’s garage.

While the Nativity story isn’t a perfect allegory to the Mission’s current housing woes, its parallels were on the minds of many of those gathered on 24th Street Thursday to celebrate Las Posadas, a Latin American Christmas tradition that reenacts Mary and Joseph’s struggle to find lodging.

“I think it would be a great year to draw some specific political ideas from Las Posadas,” said Isabel Santis, the event’s chief organizer and member of the sponsor, Red Poppy Art House. “People need to do something as a community and do something about all that’s happening now, with the Ellis Acts and displacement.”

Las Posadas literally means “accommodations” and traditionally involves a procession through the streets in which participants go door-to-door asking, and being denied, shelter. (Sounds like Craigslist.) At the final door, the procession is let inside a home or church and a piñata-busting party ensues.

Twenty-fourth Street’s Las Posadas, which has been historically organized by the Lower 24th Street Merchant’s Association, had participants in a candlelit procession winding down 24th Street singing Spanish-language carols to various businesses which had donated food to the Red Poppy’s celebration.

Two revelers carried a papier mâché altar of Mary and Joseph amidst a two dozen person procession of teens, senior citizens and everyone in between, speaking in Spanish and English.

For the most part, businesses let in the wayward couple and caroling entourage. At Ronconcito Nicaraguense, Fruitlandia, Espiga de Oro, Basa Seafood Express, La Victoria Bakery, and even Liberty Tax Services, guests and workers heard renditions of “Feliz Navidad,” “Noche de Paz,” and “El Niño de Tambor.” There was no room in Pig & Pie.

Walking down 24th Street with a candle in her hand, Patty Davis, a resident of the Mission for 26 years, felt optimistic about Mary and Joseph’s chances if they were looking for housing in the Mission today. “I think this would be a good place for Mary and Joseph, I think they’d find succor in the Mission,” she said. “Some people would definitely let them in—they probably wouldn’t knock on my door, though, I’m a Pagan.”

“I think the Mission has a huge heart, so I’m sure they’d find shelter somewhere,” said Eloise Eyvette as she helped carry the Mary and Joseph altar. “We’re going through a phase right now, this is the ‘me generation,’ but at the same time you have people who really care about this community.”

Turning up Folsom Street, the procession ended at the Red Poppy Art House on the corner of 23rd. After a singing the traditional “Las Posadas” song, the group and their special baggage entered for a fiesta of food, music, and a handmade piñata.

Santis (the realist of the bunch, certain that Mary and Joseph would completely fail to find housing in today’s rental market) hopes that Red Poppy’s celebration of Las Posadas will happen again in future years despite the diminished Latino population in the neighborhood.

“Every person I’ve talked to from a Hispanic country misses this kind of thing,” Santis said. “What I hope participants will get out of this event is an increased sense of community because we need to fight for this community’s survival.”

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Daniel Hirsch is a freelance writer who has been living in the Mission since 2009. When he's not contributing to Mission Local, he's writing plays, working as an extra for HBO, and/or walking to the top of Bernal Hill.

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  1. Honestly you guys white people sorry not all but some of you guys is taking over our culture and our community . So stop gentrifying our people if this keeps on happening than things are going to get ugly and the violence well just get worse , I put my word on that and no dont be dumb either or arrogant or ingorant , excuse my grammer, but my point is either you help our people or things in the Mission well get ugly. Just watch and please please help spread this word. I dont promote violence or none of that. So dont get my message wrong.

  2. The obvious question to ask is why Mary and Joseph moved from a place they can afford to a place they cannot afford?

    ““Every person I’ve talked to from a Hispanic country misses this kind of thing,” Santis said.”

    OK, let’s get this straight. Mary and Joseph leave a place with community that they cannot afford and move to a place with no community that they cannot afford?

    Er, why? The prospect for the result of their immaculate conception aren’t promising if the parents are that bad at decision-making.

    1. Interesting take on the situation John. Actually – the reason that Joseph and Mary left their town and went to Bethlehem was that they had to. Everyone had to go to their ancestral town to register for the census….so they could be taxed. I’m not usually a bible-quotin’ kind of gal, but here’s an excerpt that explains it.

      “Luke 2:1-5 2 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register. 4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.”

      Given the circumstances, I think their decision making was pretty good!

      1. The story of Jesus’s birth is a complete fabrication. No serious seminary student believes it. It’s a good story though. Just made up to fit past predictions so Jesus could be the “Christ”.

        1. Hi Matt. We are in agreement. It’s a great story. Just wanted to make sure that John knew what the generally accepted story was. I’m not a religious person. But a lot of the stories from the religion I grew up with have stayed with me. And some of the traditions around them are good ones.