History of Christmas still celebrated at California missions


On the winter solstice, as the sun rises in the dip between two hills, the amazing accomplishment of some 18th-century priests becomes crystal clear. Through an open window at Mission San Juan Bautista, a brilliant beam of light enters, bathing the altar in gold before traveling directly up the center aisle, gilding the 200-year-old, rust-colored tiles.

Each Dec. 21, on the shortest day of the year, people from near and far converge on this small town 90 miles southeast of San Francisco to witness what’s come to be known as “the illumination.” For some of those who pack the pews, the experience is nothing short of a Christmas miracle.