St. Rose High School student reenact the Nativity story during the Christmas Tree Lighting Spectacular. The story was narrated by Father Christopher Dayton, parish parochial vicar, shown at right. Photos from St. Rose High School
St. Rose High School student reenact the Nativity story during the Christmas Tree Lighting Spectacular. The story was narrated by Father Christopher Dayton, parish parochial vicar, shown at right. Photos from St. Rose High School

By Mary Stadnyk | Associate Editor

Belmar’s St. Rose High School started what is hoped to become a new tradition to usher in the Advent and Christmas seasons. This year, just a few days before the beginning of Advent on Dec. 2, the high school students invited their younger counterparts from St. Rose Grammar School to an afternoon Christmas Tree Lighting Spectacular that included a very well-orchestrated and pack-filled program.

As the grammar school students sat on the floor of the MACC gymnasium, they intently looked on as a group of high-schoolers re-enacted a Live Nativity depicting the journey of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, the Birth of Christ and the visits of the Three Kings and shepherds. During the reenactment, the First Christmas story was narrated by Father Christopher Dayton, St. Rose Parish, parochial vicar, and members of the school choir sang appropriate carols such as “O Holy Night.”

The program continued with the “Rosetts” dance club members and cheerleaders performing stunning routines to upbeat Christmas favorites such as “All I Want for Christmas” and then the appearance of Santa, who made a grandiose arrival, traveling first by boat from the Belmar inlet.

Once the boat was docked, Santa boarded on to a fire engine that transported him the few blocks between the inlet and the school. Once on the high school campus, Santa was lifted on to the roof and he made a coming down the chimney-like arrival by entering through back areas of the  gym. The “spectacular” ended with the lighting of a Christmas tree.

The Christmas Tree Lighting Spectacular, which was held on Nov. 28, was the idea of high school principal John Tonero and brought to fruition with the cooperation of many – Gregory Guito, grammar school principal, parish clergy and members of many of the high school’s clubs and organizations including the campus ministry, sporting teams and coaches, student council, arts council, dance club members, cheerleaders, choir members and parents. Various forms of technology were also used, especially in having the entire event videotaped and livestreamed.

“There were a lot of moving parts to this,” Tonero admitted, then extended appreciation to all  involved for their hard work in turning this first time event into something “wonderful.”

“This was our gift to the grammar school,” Tonero said, noting that he had previous experience of holding a Christmas Tree Lighting Spectacular when he was principal of Queen of Peace High School in North Arlington, which, similar to St. Rose High School, was situated on a parish campus and also had a grammar school.  

Tonero’s sentiments and enthusiasm for the Christmas Tree Lighting Spectacular were equally shared by Msgr. Edward Arnister, St. Rose Parish pastor, and Guito.

“The high school students provided a special surprise for their younger peers in the grammar school and that was greatly appreciated,” said Guito.

“The purpose of the event was to kick-off the Christmas season and to celebrate our two schools and their sense of a Christian and sound academic environment. The true meaning of Christmas was brought out in a beautiful way.”

Msgr. Arnister smiled as he told of how blessed St. Rose Parish is to have two schools on campus, then took pride in sharing some of the ways in which the two school communities interact throughout the year. The eighth graders, he said, take AP courses in the high school and the grammar school children eat their lunch in the high school cafeteria since the grammar school does not have a cafeteria of its own. More than half of the eighth grade graduates from St. Rose Grammar School continue their education in St. Rose High School.

“We are all one ‘St. Rose family,’ so why not from time to time bring the whole family together on such joyous times as Christmas. And it worked! It was a joyous event!” Msgr. Arnister said. 

He reiterated that “like everything we do here in the St. Rose schools, we strive to keep in the forefront of our minds and hearts and view things from the perspective of our Catholic faith.

“The Christmas Spectacular started out with a live reenactment of the Birth of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of St. Luke and traditional carols accompanied the live Nativity. Then we moved into other Christmas traditions so popular this time of year,” he said, adding that it was his hope that the “grammar school children left with a deeper appreciation of God’s love and the gift of his son Jesus as the Savior of the world, that Jesus IS the reason for the season.”

After St. Rose Grammar School students shared favorite parts of the Christmas Spectacular such as Riley Sherman, fourth grade, telling how his favorite part was the video and then seeing Santa “come down from the ceiling,” and Brian Fromhold, seventh grade, saying how he enjoyed the broadcast live feed of Santa traveling through the streets of Belmar, all agreed the best part was receiving an invitation from their high school peers.

“I thought it was amazing and thoughtful of the high school to invite all of us at the grammar school,” said third grader Kaitlyn Moschiano. “I kind of like how St. Rose High School and St. Rose Grammar School got together in one place.”