Norbeta Rodriguez and her relatives were busy Wednesday evening, cooking up a storm in a house on Queens Lane in Huntington Beach.
The 44-year-old Oak View neighborhood resident and her sisters appeared to be making an endless amount of tamales for the community that evening, the eve of the religious holiday celebrating Our Lady of Guadalupe.
While Rodriguez was walking back and forth from the kitchen to the warm, outdoor cooktop, dozens of residents from the community gathered in front of the house, where an altar dedicated to the female icon revered by many Latino Catholics was set up.
A mariachi band serenaded and paid homage to multiple pictures of the Virgin Mary hung in front of the house as residents huddled under blankets and sipped coffee for warmth.
Catholics — usually of Mexican descent — celebrate what they believe was the appearance of the Virgin Mother of God before a man in Mexico on Dec. 12 during the 1500s, according to Maria Zamora, secretary for the St. Vincent De Paul Catholic Church in Huntington Beach.
To celebrate the event, followers pray the rosary once a day from Dec. 1 to Dec. 12. A large celebration is held on the last day, but preparation for the big night starts the day before and has the entire community busy.
"They are such hard-working people and they stay up for hours and hours," said Carmen Barrera, a relative of Rodriguez's. "This won't end until tomorrow night. So they're making tamales, and a lot of people from the community will come in and donate sugar, money and anything for them to help buy [ingredients to make the tamales] and feed everybody."
Barrera, 26, of Anaheim, translated for Rodriguez, who said she expects to feed about 500 residents over the two nights.
The altar on Queens Lane wasn't the only one to be found in Oak View. Several more were visible on Koledo Lane, where activities to celebrate the Virgin Mary were also being held.
A group of grade school children dressed in Aztec garments and elaborate headdress performed traditional dances in the common area of an apartment complex off Koledo, while up the street, a potluck-like gathering was being enjoyed.
Oak View resident Jadira Lopez, 26, said the children had been performing since 3 p.m. Wednesday and would continue throughout the night.
"Every year they switch up the dances to honor the Virgin of Guadalupe, and they go around to the different altars," she said.
At around 7:30 p.m., about 40 people walked through the street holding up a large statue of the Virgin Mary. They sang as they made their way to yet another altar at an apartment complex on Mandrell Drive. After a 10-minute prayer to the mother of God, the figure was hoisted and walked through the streets of Oak View again.
Rodriguez's grandson, Miguel Rodriguez, 19, said the celebration is that one time of the year when residents gather together and help one another.
"These are the only days that this community comes together," he said. "Sure, the Fourth of July we go outside with fireworks and everything, but [tonight and tomorrow] we actually work together. We're like one."