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Catholic News Herald

Serving Christ and Connecting Catholics in Western North Carolina

122217 triadGREENSBORO — Every year Catholic families around the Triad look forward to Francis and Patty Disney’s Posada celebration. Over 140 adults and kids create a joyful throng each December to prepare for Christmas together and reenact Mary and Joseph’s journey through Bethlehem to the stable.

More than 30 years ago, Patty’s sister began a family tradition of acting out the Christmas story with all the children of the family. In 1995, the family moved their annual celebration to the Disney home in North Carolina, and a few years later, the Disney family began to invite friends to join them. Their daughters, Ana and Nadia, enlisted the help of their Challenge Girls Club to build a cheerful backdrop and create props. Now, the celebration has expanded to an event that encompasses multiple families and communities that transcend parish boundaries.

“We know that today many families live distant from each other,” Disney says. “And we have come to love and enjoy these young families who share with us in offering of this tradition ... to pause, gather, and share in the reason for the season and the gift of the Christ Child.”

The evening begins with Patty Disney’s warm smile welcoming the families in from the brisk winter air. A barbecue dinner follows, and everyone brings a dessert to share. Then, after a bustle of costuming, small shepherds, angels, kings and the Holy Family jump onto a long trailer edged with hay bales, and Francis Disney drives them to the large barn at the back of the property. The hay ride passes doorways strung with lights to represent the many doors closed to Mary and Joseph as they searched for room at an inn. When everyone arrives at the stable, it is filled with blinking star lights, fresh hay and a manger. Some years, the Disneys have even borrowed a live donkey to tie by the barn door. The families huddle inside and the costumed children circle the empty manger.

122219 Triad2122219 Triad2122219 Triad2This year, Thomas Markun, a student at Bishop McGuinness High School, served as the narrator. Brief, rhyming segments of narration alternate with well-known Christmas carols to tell the story of Jesus’ birth. A somewhat reluctant Joseph and an attentive Blessed Virgin Mary kept careful watch over Baby Jesus this year, while throngs of enthusiastic angels joined in for every chorus. Several of the actors are the Disney’s grandchildren. Many years, Patty Disney also shares the Catholic meanings behind each of the 1”2 Days of Christmas.” While the atmosphere is celebratory and theatrical, she has a gift for teaching through play. When the evening wraps up with a bright rendition of “O Come All Ye Faithful,” it is clear that each participant feels a little more keenly that the time is approaching to adore the Incarnate Son of God in their hearts and homes.

The event serves as more than an outdoors Christmas pageant. It is a sort of pilgrimage. The value of pilgrimage, a journey of the soul, is an integral part of the Disneys’ spirituality. They have traveled on many pilgrimages including one to the Holy Land, recent trips to Lourdes and Fatima, and a month walking the Camino in Spain.

Patty Disney says these prayerful visits facilitate “a deep encounter with Christ. We have found our Catholic faith to become to enriched and alive through pilgrimage and Camino experience. It has made our lives together as a married couple more deeply united in these shared experiences.”

This is why they embraced the Latin American Christmas tradition of a “Posada,” a walk in the footsteps of the Holy Family as they look for a place to stay.

The Disneys also provide their fellow pilgrims with an immediate opportunity for opening their own hearts to welcome others. The event collects donations for Room at the Inn, a local maternity home that houses, educates and supports homeless single mothers before and after their children are born.

The Disney family invests deeply in these “life-giving programs,” after a tragedy of their own led them to reach out to others in need of healing.

Patty explains, “Francis and I, after losing our daughter Amy, had a deeper understanding of the gift of each child. Francis, in his background with home construction and support in community, has been involved in the renovation of the Mary Nussbaum Maternity Home for Room at the Inn. We also helped to support and establish the Amy Elizabeth Disney Home that now is used to support the college program for Room at the Inn.”

The Disneys see their contribution as only a part of the larger work of supporting families and say they “feel a strong sense of supporting the family unit.”

On the scenic route back to the house in the hay wagon, the kids shake jingle bells and the parents attempt to remember all the lyrics to “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Rudolph.”

This evening spent with community in prayer and preparation has become an annual tradition for many of the Disneys’ friends. The Disneys have provided a joyfully reflective break in the midst of a busy season for young families, although they would be the first to assure you that “In the end, this story is not about us but about all those who respond to the invitation.”

— Kelly J. Henson, correspondent