Christmas in Watts, California

by Jane Bonar and Catherine Burke

Advent and Christmas is a very exciting time at Presentation Learning Center in Watts. It begins with the novena to Our Lady of Guadalupe with evening masses and refreshments every evening from Dec. 3-12. This year we had the added privilege of receiving pilgrim paintings of Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Juan Diego from the basilica in Mexico City. A large number of parishioners, parish school students and, of course, our students from the Learning Center met at the Watts Towers and processed with the paintings to our parish church, singing and dancing all the way, followed by the rosary and mass.

An annual tradition is for our dance group to entertain the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet at their retirement center in Los Angeles. Joining the sisters that day was a group of retired veterans who also loved the show. On December 12, our drama group presented the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe to our parish school students and parishioners.

Our annual volunteer Christmas party was held in early December at Mary and Joseph Retreat Center in Rancho Palos Verdes. A delicious lunch was offered and we all enjoyed the center’s display of over 100 nativity sets and were entertained by Victorian carolers. That party was followed by our annual Christmas party for our students the following week. A huge potluck was enjoyed, and the students surprised us with the gift of mariachis who provided great dance music! The children in our babysitting program received their gifts from Santa at the party. The gifts were very generously donated by the retired Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet.

The Watts Christmas parade saw our ballet folklorico dance in front of thousands of people at the parade. They received a beautiful trophy for their efforts. This year we were joined by the student council of our parish school who marched along with us.

The California Science Center had a gorgeous exhibit of King Tut artifacts which we took 100 of our adults and their children to see in December. It was very impressively done, and our students loved it.

Our Young at Heart group crocheted blankets, caps and scarves for the residents at the local convalescent home. Our singing and dance groups performed for the patients and the hand-made gifts were passed out to over 150 patients.

On December 16 the posadas began, happening every evening until December 24.  Everyone met in the church and walked in procession, singing and praying, to the family’s home who hosted the Posadas for that evening. Delicious refreshments were offered and children broke piñatas. It culminated on December 24 with the evening mass and the distribution of toys from the learning center. We were fortunate to receive toys from parishes and organizations throughout Southern California. Several hundred children entered the learning center on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning and chose two or three toys. Seeing their smiling faces was the heart of Christmas for us. We do this every year in memory of the foundation of our congregation on Christmas Eve 1775.

All of the above-mentioned activities were in addition to our regular English as Second Language, citizenship and computer classes morning and night!  Life was very busy but full of love and celebration. We can’t think of another place we’d rather be!

After Christmas vacation, we returned to classes on January 7. We started the year with a special mass to remember the first anniversary of the death of Sister Mary Sullivan, who lived and ministered with us for 15 years.  Special t-shirts with her photo were worn by our students and hot chocolate and sweet rolls were served to all after mass.