Just minutes before Apple Valley's annual Mexican posada began Friday night, someone handed 15-year-old Adriana Torres a sheet of music.

"Is this in Spanish? Oh, God," she said.

"I know how to speak it," she later explained. "But I can't read it."

Even so, Adriana joined about 70 other neighborhood residents who sang verses that described the plight of Mary and Joseph in their search for shelter just before the birth of Jesus.

The posada, celebrated in neighborhoods all over Mexico during the nine days that lead up to Christmas, is a rare event in the United States, where other holiday traditions hold greater sway even among Mexican immigrant families.

Traditionally, a family in a neighborhood will invite neighbors to their home for one of the nine nights. They'll cook a meal, often posole or tamales, and provide treats for the kids, games and a pi?ta.

The event begins with people splitting into two groups. One remains outside the house, collectively playing the role of Mary and Joseph, while another group inside the house assumes the role of the innkeeper.

On Friday, Apple Valley neighbors held their celebration at the neighborhood activity center run by the Santa Rosa Recreation and Parks Department.

Mara Leon, who runs city after-school programs in Apple Valley, organized the event, which has been held for 11 years. Leon said that until about seven years ago, a group of three families who were active in a neighborhood association regularly organized posadas in their homes.

But she said it appears the economy has taken a toll on the tradition, and families struggle with the cost of hosting scores of their neighbors.

During Friday's posada, Roselia Lopez Ruiz was among a group of neighborhood mothers who led others in singing traditional Spanish-language carols.

"It allows us to recall our traditions in Mexico," Lopez said, adding that she has not returned to her native state of Michoac? in 12 years.

After the Christmas carols, all the participants went into the activity center and ate Mexican bread with hot chocolate, nachos and posole. Leon and other city staff held a raffle of gifts and treats and a Christmas tree.

Leon asked if any of the families were interested in continuing the posada celebrations in their homes. Several mothers expressed interest, but said they were concerned about the cost.

"I'm just glad we get to have this one," Leon said.

A public posada is scheduled for tonight at Sheppard Accelerated Elementary School between 3 and 7 p.m.

(You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com.)