Event lauds reason for season
WATERLOO -- Christmas came early in Waterloo this year.
Actually, Christmas has come early in Waterloo for each of the past 14 years, thanks to the annual The Real Christmas event staged by the village's churches, community volunteers and the Waterloo Business Association. The event features carolers, warm food and entertainment, but the focal point of the celebration is Jesus' birth and the events leading up to it, according to John Stoughtenger, chairperson of The Real Christmas' planning committee.
"The Nativity is the basis of the whole celebration. Basically it's (about) the travels of Joseph and Mary up until the birth of Jesus," he said.
Volunteers from nine local churches -- including St. Mary Parish in Waterloo -- re-enacted various scenes from the Nativity story, including the Annunciation, Mary and Joseph's visit to the inn in Bethlehem, and the angel's visit to the shepherds. Waterloo residents Ed and Jean Nelson developed the idea for The Real Christmas because they wanted to find a way to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas, Stoughtenger said.
"We want to spread the real reason for the celebration of Christmas, and get a (lot of) community involvement," he said. "It seems to grow a little bit each year, and this year we've added a parade."
This year's The Real Christmas was held Dec. 1, and more than 20 community groups put together floats for the day's opening event, the parade down Main Street. The theme of the parade was "Faith, Family and Friends," and this also was the theme for many of the children's activities that took place before Dec. 1, Stoughtenger said.
Waterloo-area children were invited to participate in poster, essay and coloring contests, and the winners were announced at the conclusion of the Real Christmas events.
"We're also getting our children involved. I believe the route to education primarily starts with the children," he said. "If they understand things as children, when they grow up and become adults they'll understand the reason (for Christmas) and hopefully spread it to their children as well."
Children portrayed many of the characters in the Nativity story. St. Mary parishioners Sydney Rodgers, 9, and Payton Rodgers, 7, portrayed Mary and Joseph in the final scene of the Nativity story, which St. Mary has sponsored for 14 years, said Janet Brown, parish secretary.
When The Real Christmas first began, St. Mary School sponsored the scene and chose two students to portray Mary and Joseph each year. When the school merged with St. Patrick School in Seneca Falls in 2005 to form St. John Bosco School -- which closed in August -- the offices of St. Mary parish moved into the former school building, Brown said. The parish took over the school's former sponsorship role, and Brown and her husband, Tony, coordinate the parish's participation each year.
"When the school closed ... somebody had to carry on the tradition," she said.
Each year on the day before The Real Christmas, Tony Brown takes the plywood props from the former school building and sets them up outside of Lafayette Park on Main Street. The wooden props include a shed, cow, donkey, sheep, shepherd, three camels and three wise men.
"They're painted and made of plywood. They've been at St. Mary's for years," Brown said.
Brown recruits students from the parish's faith-formation program and provides the costumes for them to wear. Sydney and Payton, the 2007 incarnation of Mary and Joseph, wore snow pants and winter coats underneath their costumes as they sat on a bale of hay on the unseasonably cold afternoon of Dec. 1. Brown encouraged them to look as happy as Mary and Joseph probably did after Jesus was born, and to look on the bright side.
"I told them it could be raining or snowing," Brown said.
A small heater blew warm air toward the children as the soft strains of music wafted softly from a small radio on a stump next to Sydney, Payton and the baby doll in the manger. Shortly after 1:30, three men wearing brightly colored robes started down the sidewalk toward them
"Hey you guys, the three kings are coming! The real kings," Brown told the children. "They've walked the streets and they traveled through the desert and everything. They're coming to see Jesus. Here they come!"
After the three Magi, also known as Bill Leland, Jack O'Connor and Ed Windhauser, paid their respects to the newborn king, they headed toward a group of children dressed as angels and clustered around a portable fire pit. Across the street, a man demonstrated the art of carving tree trunks with a chainsaw, while another man dressed as Santa hopped into a pickup truck.
Just down the street from the group of angels, several members of the St. Mary's Folk Group sang Christmas carols in front of Waterloo Memorial Heights. They'd also caroled in front of the post office earlier that day, and make it a point to participate in The Real Christmas each year, regardless of how cold it might be outside.
"Because it's a community project," member Liz Young said.
"It's always important for the church to have a community presence, and we've been doing this since it started," added Bob Dinan Jr.
Dinan, director of the folk group, provided guitar accompaniment as the other members sang "Angels We Have Heard on High" and "Silent Night."
" It's just part of being Christ's presence in the community. Even though it's very cold and we have running noses," Dinan said with a smile.