As she does every Wednesday, Ana Lara fried up stacks of puffy quesadillas, topping them with dollops of sour cream and shredded cabbage before handing them to her hungry neighbors at Shalimar Park.
Kids bundled up in hats and coats clambered on the dark playground while their parents chatted nearby. As usual, the Bosques family supplied steaming tamales.
But this week, the Costa Mesa neighborhood's weekly block party — which residents credit for bringing the community closer together — took on a holiday theme.
It was Shalimar's night to host a posada, a traditional Latino Christmas celebration that recreates Mary and Joseph's journey to find lodging in Bethlehem.
The Shalimar posada, which goes back about six years, is the largest in Costa Mesa, said Effy Sanchez, a neighborhood advisor with Mika Community Development Corp., which helps organize the event.
"Every year it's bigger and bigger," she said. "The posada is like, it's Hispanic Christmas."
About 7:30 p.m., a crowd of about 100 gathered in the street to begin their slow march to "Bethlehem" — which on this night was an apartment next to the park.
"I need more candles!" Sanchez said, bustling toward a table laden with doughnuts and hot ponche, or punch, for after the ceremony.
Then, clad in a sparkly pink Santa hat, Susana Martinez led the group down the street. She read prayers from a book, but the words seemed to come automatically to many of the men, women and children who followed her down Shalimar Drive.
When the group arrived at the posada, or "inn," Sanchez and several others packed into the front hallway of the apartment to play the role of innkeepers.
"My wife is Mary, she is the Queen of Heaven," the group led by Martinez sang in Spanish outside. "She will be mother to the Divine Word."
"Is that you, Joseph?" sang the group inside. "Your wife is Mary? Enter pilgrims, I didn't recognize you."
As the crowd dispersed, some returning to the playground and some lining up for snacks, Mika Executive Director Christine Brooks Nolf addressed the crowd.
Switching between English and Spanish, Brooks Nolf, a former Daily Pilot columnist, quoted the Biblical verse Mark 9:23, saying that despite setbacks, with faith "All things are possible."
Then — for the second year in what organizers hope will become a tradition — came the Chinelos, or traditional Mexican dancers.
Dressed in glittering brick red robes and hats adorned with feathers, they spun and whirled in a circle. One by one, they pulled audience members into the circle to join them.
Arturo Suarez, 14, who said he's lived in Shalimar for about a year, said he likes everything about posadas.
"I like spending time with my family, neighbors and friends," he said.
Lara watched the dancers from behind the fryer.
"The tradition is important ..." she said, trailing off. She paused and tapped her daughter, 15-year-old Aileen Romero, on the shoulder and asked her to help translate.
"...To show the kids, so they could show their kids," Romero finished.