“Oh, what’s to become of all my beautiful seven deadly sins? Jesus!”
“Exactly,” Asmodeo responded to the tail end of his boss Lucifer’s enraged diatribe upon hearing of the birth of Jesus Christ in “La Pastorela.”
This satiric homage to Jesus is one of the many reasons why, if I was lucky enough to live in San Diego, December would be my favorite month of the year.
I’d be cheering “Have a Merry-Achi Christmas” to everyone who passed by me.
I’d stop at the 1857 Whaley House, picturing Lillian Whaley in the ballroom in 1872, playing the role of shepherdess in “La Pastorela.” Lucifer does not have her patience, and in the end, the children he tricked away are returned to her.
The Mexican version of the European medieval miracle play adds a ribald quality to the solemn drama the priests introduced into Mexico in the 1500s. Translating to “The Shepherds’ Play,” the tale tells of the shepherds’ pilgrimage to visit the newborn baby Jesus in Bethlehem.
The play has given way to a holiday ceremony the local Indians participated in, “Las Posadas.” I’d be the first to join in the procession today, led by more than 100 volunteers and serenaded by three choirs singing Villancicos de Navidad. “Venid y adoremos, venid y adoremos, venid y adoremos a Cristo Jesus,” I’d sing, at the top of my lungs (like you’re supposed to).
Luminarias flickering their amber glow would light my way as I paraded through Old Town, ending at the 1827 Casa de Estudillo, where I, of course, would be the smart, blindfolded one whose stick cracked open the pinata and let all the candy rain down on the happy children.
Yet the celebration would not end there for me. I’d grab my chance to explore the Old Town spots where locals hang out, guided by Dean Glass, of SOHO.
The Cowboy Bar: El Agave is the place to find the finest tequilas; it boasts more than 100 types and houses a tequila museum. If you’re single (and lookin’), go to the Café Coyote or Old Town Mex.
Yummy in My Tummy: Traditional Mexican pastries at La Panadería; locally-produced Spanish wine at Hacienda de las Rosas; fresh chili ristras and moles at the SOHO Museum Shop; and mission olive oil from Temecula Olive Oil Company.
Books Galore: Children’s history books at Captain Fitch’s Mercantile and Indian history tomes and contemporary cookbooks at Schillers.
Most Authentic Store: Racine & Laramie, for cigars, tobacco and stationery. Housed in the expertly reconstructed Rodríguez Adobe, this shop is a treat to visit, even for non-smokers.
Must-See Museum: Wells Fargo Museum, which exhibits an original 1868 Abbot-Downing Stagecoach.
Old West Attractions: The Royal Presidio above Old Town; El Campo Santo cemetery, where the town’s earliest residents are buried; and Heritage Park, a Victorian village of seven historic structures moved from downtown San Diego in the 1960s.
Best Time of Year: Bragging rights here, it’s San Diego! With average temperatures around 72 degrees, and the ocean, bay, river, mountains and the Anza-Borrego Desert all within a half-day’s drive, living here is hard to beat—and Old Town is located at the center of it all.
Best-Kept Secret: San Diego, founded in 1769 on Presidio Hill overlooking Old Town, is known as the “Plymouth Rock of the West Coast.” It represents the first permanent European settlement in California and is the Birthplace of California. And it is home to 16 free museums!
Preservation Project: The Cosmopolitan Hotel, built in 1830 as the original home of Juan Bandini, became a hotel and stagecoach stop. It will open in 2009.
Special thanks to Dean Glass, administrative aide for San Diego’s Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO), for sharing his love of the town with us.