Smokey Bear, trees, and tamales — posada welcomes Latino families to Christmas tradition in the forest

Ruben Vargas (third from right) and family chopped down their tree on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022 at the posada, tree-cutting event.
Josie Taris/The Aspen Times

Roaring Fork Valley families kicked off the Christmas season at a posada and tree-cutting event at the Babbish Gulch trailhead near Glenwood Springs on Saturday.

Conservation advocacy group Wilderness Workshop and their Latino-outreach division Defiende Nuestra Tierra joined forces with the White River National Forest Service to provide free tree-cutting permits and gear for attendees, plus a festive atmosphere complete with Latin music, tamales, and champurrado.

At the trailhead parking lot, U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Wilderness Workshop tents sheltered their respective staffs from the falling snow. USFS staff checked in the attendees and passed out tree-cutting permits and instructions in English and Spanish, plus some merch for the kids and outdoor-enthusiast adults. The Defiende tent had two coolers of tamales and seemingly bottomless champurrado, or Mexican hot chocolate, along with conservation educational materials.

Folks walked around with tamales in one hand and waving hello to USFS mascot Smokey Bear with the other, swaying to the music. And, people kept emerging from the forest with the family Christmas tree slung over their shoulders. 

“Coming out of the woods and seeing everyone with trees on their cars … it’s perfect,” said Lynn Lockwood, public affairs specialist with the White River National Forest.

This is the third year Defiende Nuestra Tierra and USFS have partnered for a posada Christmas tree-cutting event. A posada is a traditional Latin American Christmas community event. In Mexico, tamales and champurrado are always served.

USFS invites the public to choose and chop down their own Christmas tree every holiday season. The partnership for this event seemed natural.

The partnership also helps to make Latino residents of the Roaring Fork Valley feel welcome on their public land.

This year, 120 people registered to attend, a slight increase from years prior. The Wilderness Workshop purchases the $10 tree-cutting permits for registered attendees, and USFS provides gear, like a saw and rope, so folks coming to get their tree face no additional costs.

USFS staff said that most people who came to get a tree had registered with Defiende Nuestra Tierra, but some people happened upon the event and joined the fun after buying a permit.

“We’re seeing a nice mix of Charlie Brown trees, and trees approaching the 15-foot limit,” said Grant Stevens, the communications director for Wilderness Workshop. 

After choosing, chopping, and strapping a tree to their car roofs, attendees gathered for food and community in the Babbish Gulch parking lot.

Will Grandbois works for USFS and is based in the Carbondale station. He directed people to choose their Christmas tree from a cluster of young trees, where it is likely that not all will survive to adulthood. 

Between the groups of people lugging a tree out of the forest, winter outdoor enthusiasts slipped through the crowd. Cross-country skiers and people on snowmobiles displayed the many uses of public land in the winter.

While the event’s intent is to reach Latino communities in the Roaring Fork Valley and beyond, Defiende Director Omar Sarabia said he was heartened to see people of many ethnicities out celebrating together. 

“I like to see my community together,” he said, “(We) are creating memories with our families on our public lands.”

Hanna Arauza and her family attended from Rifle. Her sons enjoyed the sledding and tamales more than choosing a tree. But, she was happy to bring them to an event centered on Latino culture.

“I love (events like this) and want more of them, especially downvalley,” she said.

Her partner is Chicano and his parents did not teach him Spanish out of a desire to help him assimilate in American culture, she said. They hope to raise their boys to be in touch with their identity.

When asked what his favorite part of the day was, her 3-year-old son Felix yelled, “Snow!”

Her older son Augustus, 6, who goes by Gus, was eager to brag about the number of pork tamales he ate — at least two.

Tree-cutting permits are still available at USFS stations, partner vendors, or online at

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