Latino Christmas Program Testifies of Christ
By Jason Swensen, Church News staff writer
"Every culture has different ways to celebrate Christmas, but the purpose is the same—to remember the birth of Jesus Christ." —Alejandro Ponce, choeographer
“Ven a mi casa esta Navidad”—that's Spanish for “Come to my house this Christmas.”
It's a holiday invitation one might hear in any Latin America neighborhood. But it's also the welcoming theme of this year's edition of the annual Church-sponsored Latino cultural program.
The program—which features a cast of almost 1,000 singers, dancers, musicians, actors, and stagehands—was scheduled to be performed December 5–7 in front of thousands inside the Salt Lake Tabernacle. But the show's producers hope each audience member feels like a special guest in the home of a Latter-day Saint Spanish-speaking family.
“This program gives us a chance to preserve and share the cultural heritage that we love,” said Melissa Ottonelli, a cast member and Cali, Colombia, native who now calls Provo, Utah, home.
Sister Ottonelli added that the program doubles as a valuable missionary tool. The songs, dances, and video clips emphasize the central role the Savior plays in the life of each cast member.
“Here we have an opportunity to share our testimony of Christ,” she said.
“Ven a mi casa esta Navidad” is a 90-minute holiday celebration of song and dance. Presented entirely in Spanish, the diverse performances represent the many festive ways Christmas is celebrated across Mexico, Central and South America, and the islands of the Caribbean.
“As soon as you hear the music and the lights go up, you can feel the spirit of Christmas,” said cast member Annya Becerra, who donned an ornate dress for her role in the Bolivian dance “Saya de Navidad.”
Sister Becerra and countless others from the cast are regulars in the annual, Church-sponsored Latino program. The event offers LDS Latinos in Utah an opportunity to share both their cultural traditions and religious convictions—even as they discover the holiday traditions of others.
Preparing for the program, added Sister Becerra, demands hours of rehearsals. But it's time well spent. “I do this because of my love for the gospel, my culture, and my Savior.”
The various editions of the annual Church-produced Latino program have become staples on BYUtv International and are broadcast across the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking world.
Taylorsville, Utah, resident Alejandro Ponce choreographed the “Las Posadas” dance that recounts the story of Joseph and Mary seeking shelter on a cold Bethlehem night. He came to love the “Posadas” and its familiar re-enactment of the first Christmas while growing up in Mexico.
“Every culture has different ways to celebrate Christmas, but the purpose is the same—to remember the birth of Jesus Christ,” he said.
Brother Ponce and his wife, Sarahi, also enjoy the missionary aspect of the Christ-centered program. They know the songs and dances are visual testimonies of the gospel. Their participation has helped them feel closer to their missionary son, Elder Kevin Ponce, who is serving in the Dominican Republic.
Free tickets for the popular event were sold out.