Saturday, December 27, 2008

Latino children bring joy to the new world

Children mark Christmas with traditional Hispanic celebration in Peekskill
By Christine Pizzuti • The Journal News • December 26, 2008

Small children with false curled mustaches riding atop pickup trucks draped in red velvet were cheered on yesterday during a procession that made its way to the Church of the Assumption for afternoon Christmas Mass.

Hundreds of children, many in a daze, sat atop the 20 allegorical floats and marched through the streets, wearing angel costumes, brightly colored ponchos and jewel encrusted vests during the Hispanic community's celebration of el Nino Viejero, or "the traveling child."

"God came to us first as a baby," said the church pastor, the Rev. John Higgins. "It's the way God chose to manifest himself."

The tradition is deeply rooted in Hispanic culture and performed in many countries, a variety of which were represented at the parade, Higgins said.

Residents took a break from their regular Christmas celebrations and came down to the streets to videotape and wave to the children on their short journey.

Each float was decorated to emphasize a different part of the story of Jesus Christ: One had children dressed as the three wise men, and on another a small girl dressed as the Virgin Mary sat on a stuffed donkey.

From the sides of the colorful floats hung pineapples, oranges, lollipops and bottles of cider and soda.

As he walked behind the last float in the parade, Higgins summed up the symbolism of all the children, music, and colorful costumes and produce.

"This tradition is meant to show the joy of the birth of Jesus at Christmas," he said.

Men dressed as Santa Claus threw pouches of goodies into the crowds while children did their best to scratch beneath their itchy wigs while clapping to the festive music that filled the streets.

"A lot of the traditional suits they're wearing are representative of the time when Jesus Christ was born," said William Campoverde, head of the church's Hispanic ministry. "This is all to celebrate our Lord's birthday."

After the floats were placed in the church parking lot, the energetic crowd spilled into the church by the hundreds, completely filling both levels and continuing out the door. There were about 2,000 people in all.

The children, still in bright costumes, ran about the church, weaving in between the adults as they stood for prayer.

The celebration was free and happy, and the crowd sang and clapped loudly to the music played by a live band.

Parents with video cameras on tripods zoomed in on the three wise men and angel who stood at the altar.

Up at the front of the church was one very special figure, a statue of Jesus that was donated to the parish by the archbishop of Cuenca in Ecuador.

The statue arrived just a few weeks ago, Higgins said.

The Church of the Assumption, which also has a school, provides scholarships to families and will sponsor a weeklong trip to Rome at the end of June.

Reach Christine Pizzuti at or 914-696-8291.

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