Saturday, 19 December 2015

To the North Pole at the Irvine Park Railroad

Leave it to mothers to plan a big surprise for the kids this holiday season. A plan was hatched by my daughter who had ordered tickets, online, for a special train ride that would take us to the North Pole to see Santa Claus at the Irvine Park Railroad. Hmmm, I wondered how this was going to happen and how convincing it was going to be for my grandkids?

Driving from the city and finally getting on the 241 FWY in Irvine, South Orange County, we travelled uphill, then onto mountain roads that were pitch-black, and soon -  in the middle of nowhere, Christmas lights began to appear.
We made it! We found it! 
The magic of lights transformed the Irvine Park Railroad into a Christmas Village. 
Our excitement was building up.

The Irvine Park Railroad was developed by two good friends - John Ford and Steve Horn, in 1996. Their vision was to make this place "a premier park destination for families" in South Orange County. Their on-the-job training in running a park started with their summer jobs when they were just thirteen, when they spent their summers and vacations at Doheny State Beach, manning the snack bar and eventually taking care of equipment rentals. After college, they came upon an opportunity to operate the food and bike rental concessions at the Irvine Regional Park. They did well. Soon, they signed a lease and embarked on their own concessions business in 1988, giving birth to their catering business - Company Picnic Specialists.

Since 1996, more fun events and activities have been organized for the families and other visitors who come all year-round to the park. Here, families make memories when they come for some fun or to celebrate a special event or occasion. 

And so, we have come to make memories this Christmas holiday season for the little people. 

The transformation of this park is magical with the use of Christmas lights. Tree trunks have been wrapped around with lights, and the building structures on site and some typical  objects found in the park have been outlined with colored lights.
Park entrance
 Bank and Barber Shop
An open carriage with Christmas Bear
The water wheel
A tractor
The shed

With a booklet of tickets, the kids were entitled to join some activities. 
 Santa Bounce House Jumper
Ice Fishing
 A walk through the maze (free)
Christmas  Cookie Decorating 
Christmas Carnival Games - ring and pillow toss
Every kid walks away with a prize.
Christmas Coloring Corner 

Kids checked to see how tall they were. The adults did, too.

On schedule, we got ready to take our train ride at the appointed time - 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. How exciting this was for my grandkids as we were "going" to the North Pole to see Santa.
  The tickets for the train ride are sold according to space availability at a specific hour. 
Tickets were only sold online. By this time, all the tickets for the train rides were sold out.
Waiting in line

While still in line, I was people-watching - from babies to grandparents, and others of different ages in between. I got to meet and talk to some of them, too.
The train arrived - we got ready to board.

All aboard...
going through the Christmas Village ...
 we are gaining speed...

 heading into the woods...
 passing by the lake...going through an area where it was really dark.

After a few minutes, we saw lights again.
And we had just been informed that we "arrived" in the North Pole and it was time to disembark to see and have a photo op with Santa.

Hot wine, anyone?

And who is Santa? His origins begin with St. Nicholas.

He was born in the 3rd century, in a small village - Patara - formerly a Greek territory, but now found in the southern coast of Turkey. He came from a family with means and he was raised a Christian. Sadly, he was orphaned at a young age when an epidemic took the lives of his parents. In obedience to what he learned from the teachings of Jesus, he used his inheritance in his ministry work - taking care of "the needy, the sick, and the suffering."

He dedicated his life to serving God. While still a young man, he was made Bishop of Myra. His reputation preceded him - he was known for his "generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships."

When Diocletian - the Roman emperor - came to power, he persecuted Christians. For his faith, St. Nicholas suffered as he was exiled and imprisoned, along with criminals. After he was released, he attended the the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. (when and where the Nicene Creed and the church canon law were formulated).

He died on December 6, AD 343 in Myra (December 19 in the Julian Calendar) and was buried in his cathedral church. A relic formed in his grave called manna - it is pure water that continues to form in Bari, Italy. In the Eastern tradition, it is called  oil, Myron, or Miro. This liquid was said to have healing powers and it led the people to have a devotion to Nicholas.

Many stories and legends have been told about St. Nicholas' life. In death, he was also miraculously helping those in need and those who sought his intercession. 

Back to Santa Claus now...
After standing in line - shivering in the cold for about 20 minutes -  we got to go up to see Santa and have a picture taken with him. When we left, my 4-year old grandson asked "Why did Santa not give me a present?" Quickly, we explained that Santa was going to drop it off at his house on Christmas eve. 

How convincing was that!?!

After our visit to the North Pole, we needed to catch another train to "go back" to the park in Irvine. My grandson said "It is so cold in the North Pole." Boy, it really was! We all braved the 42°F cold, evening temperature.
 The train arrived for our return trip.
 As we left the North Pole...
  we passed through the woods again, then by the lake...and soon...
we approached the entrance to the tunnel...

 we raced through ...
 and before you knew it, we were back!

Looking back, we had quite a fantasy night.

A reminder to be nice, just as we were about to leave...then we spotted a sign.
 "Story Time with Mrs. Claus"

But poor Mrs. Claus was feeling so cold and so did we.

Back in the lowlands, we had to defrost a bit. Happy but tired, we all went to sleep after an enjoyable time at the Christmas village at the Irvine Park Railroad. 

What do you think? After this visit, I think I can  scratch off the North Pole from my bucket list. lol 

Back to reality now!

The Christmas village and the Christmas tree lot at the park will remain open up to December 23, 2015.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Las Mananitas a la Virgen de Guadalupe - Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Cold and still dark, the mostly Latino crowd celebrated " Las mañanitas  a la Virgen de Guadalupe " today, on December 12, 2015. At the parish church I went to, it was standing-room only. It was a celebration in honor of the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

 "Las mañanitas a la Virgen de Guadalupe" is a Mexican tradition. On this feast day, the faithful come with roses to offer to Our Lady, and place them by her image. "Las mañanitas" is a Mexican, traditional birthday song sung early in the morning, to awaken the birthday celebrant.
The serenading commenced at 6:00 a.m. The mariachi lead the serenade to Our Lady of Guadalupe, prior to the scheduled mass at 6:30 a.m.
 One of the mariachi group members agreed to pose for a picture of  their uniform - the  tilma - a mantle worn as outer wear, had a design on the front and back sections of the scene depicting the apparition of the Virgin Mary to Juan Diego. The whole celebration was in Spanish.

The story of what happened in 1531 is retold in song - 
 La Guadalupana (The Virgin of Guadalupe)

* Here is the translated version.
From the heavens on a beautiful morning
The Virgen of Guadalupe
The Virgen of Guadalupe came down to Tepeyac.1
The Virgen of Guadalupe
The Virgen of Guadalupe came down to Tepeyac.
From the heavens on a beautiful morning...
Pleadingly, she joined her hands,
And it was the Mexican people
Whom she resembled in her demeanor and visage.
Her arrival brought happiness
Light and harmony [and freedom]
To all of Anáhuac.2
Juan Diego was passing closely by the mountain
And drew nearer when
He heard the sound of singing.
To Juan Diego the Virgin said:
"This is the hill I've chosen
For my altar to be built."
And amongst the painted roses of the tilma3
Her beloved image
She has left upon it.4
As of then, for the Mexican people
To be a Guadalupan5
Was something essential. 
In their/our sorrows, they/we kneel over the fennel.6
And with their/our eyes raised
Towards Tepeyac.
Dearest mother of all the people of Mexico
Who art thou in heaven
Who art thou in heaven, pray for us to God.
Who art thou in heaven
Who art thou in heaven, pray for us
to God.

In narrative form, here is my version of the story.

Juan Diego was a native Mexican of little means and education. He was a weaver, a farmer, and a laborer. Born in 1474 in the town of Tlayacac in Cuauhtilan, about twenty kilometers from Tenochtitlan (Mexico City), he was a very spiritual man who made regular trips, on foot, to receive catechetical instructions and hear mass. His town was established by the Nahua tribesmen in 1168, and conquered by Axayacatl, the Aztec lord, in 1467. This was at a time when the war had ended a few years before and the religious fervor of the people was growing. 

On one of his treks to go to church, to pray for his sick uncle, he heard a sweet sound and climbed up the hill to see where it was coming from. There, he saw an unusual vision. There was a beautiful woman who appeared like an Aztec princess in what seemed like a bejeweled surrounding, who called out to him on Tepeyac Hill. She identified herself as the Virgin Mary and asked him where he was going. As he briefly explained what his task was for this day, she lovingly responded to him that his prayers were being heard. Then she  asked him to do something for her, to deliver a message to the bishop of Mexico. To this he bowed in submission and left his cares to the Virgin Mary, and he went about to see the bishop.

The bishop was skeptical to hear this message from the Virgin Mary - for a church to be built on the site where she appeared. It was to be a temple where she would show her love to all, her compassion, give help and protection, to listen to their prayers and laments, and to bring relief and answers to their prayers about their miseries and sorrows, for she was their merciful mother. The bishop asked for more information and proof as to the identity of Juan's celestial visitor.

With other things on his mind, Juan got sidetracked when he found out his uncle was dying. He missed his next rendezvous with the Lady. But, she met him on the path he had taken to let him know that his uncle was going to be cured and to go back to doing his mission for her.

After his third visit to the bishop, narrating the same course of events that led him to there, in the first place, the bishop had Juan followed, to track him down to see what he was up to. But they lost sight of him. Juan was saddened by the bishop's deaf ears to his message.  It had gotten harder to see the bishop in his subsequent visits, since the first time. 

During the fourth apparition, the Lady asked Juan to go up the hill to gather what ever he would find there. It was the month of December when freezing temperatures made it impossible for anything to grow, not even weeds. To his surprise, Juan found colorful flowers with the sweetest scent. He gathered them and carried them on his tilma (a blanket, cape) that he was wearing to keep him warm. When he showed them to the Lady, she asked him to bring the roses to the bishop as proof of who she was.

Juan went back to the bishop's palace to bring the proof that had been requested. But the servants and the other workers would not let him in. They wanted to see what he had in his tilma, but he would not let them. Thy grappled with him to take whatever he had, but when they opened his tilma, there was nothing but painted images. Finally after his long, persistent wait, and convinced that he had something important to show the bishop, they let him in.

Juan explained to the bishop that this was the proof being sent to him that he my believe the message of the Lady. As soon as he unfurled Juan's tilma, Castillian roses dropped down to the floor - a variety that did not grow in Mexico, and to the amazement of the bishop and the others in the room, the image of the Lady was imprinted on the tilma. With sorrowful hearts, they prayed for forgiveness for their unbelief and their actions.

The bishop took the tilma and placed it in the chapel and, thereafter, asked Juan Diego to show them the site the following day. Then, Juan wanted to go home. Accompanied by the bishop's people, they all met the uncle who had miraculously recovered and was happily up and about. The uncle, Juan Bernardino, told them the story of how the Lady had visited him to cure him and explained to him why his nephew could not come home, as she explained the reason for sending him to the bishop. 

The construction of the basilica began in 1531 with the design of architect Pedro de Arrieta, and completed in 1709. Juan Diego's tilma was transferred here from the chapel of the bishop's palace in 1709 and stayed there up to 1974. A bomb was planted in the church in 1921 by an anti-clerical activist. The explosion damaged the building's interior, but the tilma survived, with some minor damage. In time, the basilica started to sink as the city was built over a lake. A new basilica was constructed close to the original location. The old basilica, after repairs and renovations has been reopened to the public, and this is where the perpetual adoration is held. 

The modern-looking basilica - a circular building, was built in 1974 to 1976 by Mexican architect Pedro Ramirez Vasquez, who used a structural design with a major pylon to keep it from sinking. Next to Vatican City, this receives the next highest number of pilgrims who come to visit, annually. Our Lady of Guadalupe has been declared as the patroness of the Americas. 

Many wonder why Juan Diego was chosen as the deliverer of a very important, heavenly message, as invisible as he was to much of the society. As it is in most Marian apparitions, Mary our Mother, has appeared to simple-minded children. Matt 11:25, in Jesus' reply to those around him: "I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike."

Juan Diego never got to see the completed church. He died on May 30, 1548 at the age of 74. He considered himself  a nobody - "a small rope, a tiny ladder, the tail end, a leaf." In the eyes of our Lady, he who was of simple faith - walking 15 miles each time he went to hear mass, was the best instrument for her message to the world. He was canonized on July 31, 2002 by Blessed Pope John Paull II, and with this prayer he asked for his intercession: "Blessed Juan, you faced the skepticism and rejection from a bishop and the crowds to bring Mary's message to Mexico. Pray for us when we are faced with obstacles to our faith, that we may show that same courage and commitment. Amen." 

The feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated on December 12. Through her intercession, may there be peace and healing in the Americas and in the rest of the world. 

A reception followed the mass - Mexican breakfast with Mexican sweet bread, tamales, and Mexican, hot, thick chocolate  - champurrado.

Attending this celebration transported me to somewhere in Mexico. From the mariachi singing, the mass in Spanish, the Mexican breakfast, the traditional costumes worn by some of the people added to the cultural significance of the day.

 This tilma was made of a thick fleece material, with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe as part of the fabric design.
A family came in their traditional outfits typically worn by Mexican Indians found in a certain locality in Mexico.

 A group of students from a school performed a dance number to the rhythm of the drum beat.

 This seven-year old girl, was one of several kids who wore this traditional ensemble. She wore a long skirt with a matching blouse, embroidered with big flowers. To keep her warm, she wore a sweater that was inside her blouse and a shawl over her shoulders.

As we anticipate and prepare for the celebration Christmas, we are called to join in the nine-day novena - Las Posadas -  to trace the steps Mary and Joseph took, starting this Monday, December 14. It is another Mexican tradition. It was brought by the Spanish friars to Mexico some 400 years ago.

Feliz Navidad a todos!


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