When Christ was born, three kings from the Orient who were guided by the Star of Bethlehem, went to the stable where he was born and gave him gifts.
More than 2,000 years after that first Christmas, a similar thing in a much smaller scale – and with a slightly modern twist – is taking place this weekend at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Manteca.
About a dozen preschoolers between the ages of 3 and 5 are taking the trek from Tracy on Saturday evening to present their gifts to the baby Jesus. The event is the annual Baby Shower for Baby Jesus benefiting the Manteca Pregnancy Help Center. Gifts and donations are collected during all the weekend Masses and at the Saturday anticipated Mass. Parishioners leave their gift offerings at the foot of Mary, the mother of Jesus kneeling behind a miniature manger, minus the baby Jesus. The simple tableau is right next to the altar.
The youngsters from Tracy are not members of St. Anthony’s Parish. They are students at the First Presbyterian Children’s Center on Berverdore Drive. This is the second year in a row that they are taking part in this activity.
The children’s teacher, Loretta Nunez, said she came up with the idea for this gift-giving project last year when she heard Sister Ann Venita the year before talking about what the Baby Shower for Jesus was all about.
“I thought it would be a wonderful thing to gather my preschoolers and have them participate in delivering the gifts to the baby Jesus. So I called Sister Ann and she was more than happy to have us participate,” Nunez said.
“It turned out really nice. It was a really beautiful thing. Some of the parents in Tracy came to Manteca to bring their kids, so it was a very nice thing that they all came and the kids delivered their gifts,” she said.
“We teach them Christmas songs and we do incorporate ‘Away in a Manger,’ so they know the meaning of Christmas and they know that Jesus is not born yet and that he was going to be born on Christmas day,” said Nunez addressing the absence of a baby Jesus at the tableau.
The preschoolers’ parents are just as enthusiastic in having their children partake of this activity, Nunez said.
“They were so happy that their kids were able to participate in something like that. They were understanding,” said Nunez of the event last year when 11 children took part. That’s nearly half of the school’s total enrolment of 26.
Joining the Tracy children in the gift presentation last year before the 5 o’clock Mass were the St. Anthony School’s preschool students.
Nunez said she hopes to continue bringing her preschool students at First Presbyterian Children’s Center to the Baby Shower for Jesus in the years to come.
“I want to make it a tradition,” said Nunez who has been a teacher at the Presbyterian preschool for seven years.
The baby shower gifts collected are delivered to the Pregnancy Help Center which distributes them to young mothers and pregnant women. The non-profit program, which solely relies on donations and contributions, is always looking for cash donations and baby items such as lotions for infants, layettes, pampers, baby shampoo, among many others.
The Manteca Pregnancy Help Center is located at 640 North Main Street in Manteca, telephone (209) 239-9899. Additional information about the all-volunteer program can be obtained at www.mantecapregnancyhelpcenter.com.