Carry On Creche Tradition:
First shift mans expanded
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.
Fairfield, CT – Nello Ceccarelli would be touched to see his long-standing tradition carried on. Knights of Columbus members see it as their spiritual duty.
Established more than twenty years ago by Ceccarelli, the tradition of displaying a crèche on the Town Green at the corner of Beach Rd. and Old Post Road has been assumed by the K of C, which will man the exhibit now through 11 a.m. Christmas morning. Ceccarelli passed this past July at the age of 94 and the Knights wanted to continue the effort.
“All Nello had was a small wooden crèche… a box with simple painted plywood figures,” said Paul Riordan, a past Grand Knight.
“With the help of master craftsman Tom Kapitan, we have created a new crèche that’s four times bigger and with larger figures and LED lighting,” said Ken Elwood, Grand Knight of Holy Family Council of the K of C., who is coordinating this year’s display.
Specifically, the display includes a 6’ x 4’ x 4’ cedar manger and 2-foot high figurines of three angels, the Three Wisemen, Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. The manger is lined with straw and outlined with lighting. The crèche will be manned by 45 K of C volunteers working 2-hour shifts, with two to three men per shift. Volunteers hail from Trumbull, Monroe, Fairfield and Bridgeport.
Elwood, together with Hav Tweedy from St. Jude’s Council in Monroe and Andrew Geisert from Holy Family Council in Easton, will serve as the first shift. A vigil group led by Sam Rizzatelli of Assumption Council in Fairfield will work the 12 a.m. – 6 a.m overnight shift.
“This is a very spiritual time,” said Elwood. “A lot of people come down and pray. We started helping Nello five years before he died. One of the Knights of Columbus’ themes is to keep Christ in Christmas and this is a big part of that.”
To stay warm, Elwood said they plan to walk around and drink coffee. “For two hour shifts, it’s not too bad, but I don’t envy the overnight crew. They’ll need their thermals! Hopefully it will stay dry. If it rains or snows, it gets messy. We welcome families to bring their kids down. We’re on one of the busiest corners in Fairfield. We’ll be singing carols on Christmas Eve,” said the Grand Knight.
Riordan recalled how K of C inherited the role. “A few years back, we heard that Nello was not going to be able to continue the tradition and decided, if he can do it, we can do it. Now it’s a tradition for my son and I to be here at midnight on Christmas Eve. We’re blessed with a new crèche but sadly no Nello.”
Riordan said townspeople are very accommodating and pleasant. “People bring us coffee, hot chocolate and hand warmers. They toot their horns and wave. It makes you feel that Christmas spirit. It’s about the birth of Jesus and being thankful for the gifts we’ve been given. This is our part of giving back to the community.”
Riordan said every year is different weather-wise. “Last year, it was snow. The year before, rain. This poor guy (referring to Geisert) was out in a hurricane on a 3-hour night shift. That was treacherous. Nello used to do this all by himself.”
The display has really become a town fixture said Riordan. “People will come by after midnight mass. They remember coming as kids and now they bring their own kids. There’s a road race crew that comes by Christmas morning that makes a point of stopping.” As he spoke, several cars tooted their horns and the men waved back.
“We’ve never had a negative experience,” said Riordan, though initially Ceccarelli encountered challenges. “There was controversy about having a religious artifact on town property. The town said you can do it only if you stay with it and maintain it. We also have to keep a sign posted.”
The sign to which he referred was a message painted onto a large piece of plywood posted curbside stating that the crèche is “Sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, not sponsored by the Town of Fairfield.”
Riordan shared other memories of when Ceccarelli kept vigil. “He would bring a goat, someone else would bring a dove. He would ask people to say a prayer or Hail Mary and remember Jesus. He was very gregarious, even in his wheelchair.”
Not 100 feet away, a second crèche, adjacent to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and on its own property, stood. Staff there was not willing to comment on the K of C crèche.
In contrast, Domingo Serrano, Sexton at First Church Congregational, across the street from the crèche and Town Green, was only too happy to share his thoughts. “I knew Nello since 1999. Every year he did the crèche. He was very faithful and warm with people. Now he’s not with us, the Knights have picked up and it will continue. People will always remember Nello because of this. He will be missed.”