Nello is gone, but Knights continue Christmas creche vigil
Nello Ceccarelli's legacy lives on.
Tucked under the town's towering Christmas tree in front of Old Town Hall, a brand-new crèche was erected Thursday morning by members of the Knight of Columbus Council 11436 at Holy Family Church, where Ceccarelli worshipped.
Ceccarelli, a longtime Representative Town Meeting member who died in August at the age of 94, was well-known for his annual Christmas vigil, for which he erected a small crèche under the fir tree and stood watch over it for three days as a testament to his faith -- and as required by town regulations governing displays on public property.
For more than 20 years, Ceccarelli, often accompanied by a pet goat, was a holiday fixture. His last vigil took place in 2005 when he was 90. The following year, he declared that he no longer could maintain the vigil at the Nativity scene, so members of the Knights of Columbus agreed to keep the tradition going.
Braving the cold and the wind Thursday, five knights -- from the Holy Family council and beyond -- set up the cedar crèche, built by master craftsman Tom Kapitan. The cedar boards, coated with polyurethane, will help the display withstand harsh weather. They also carefully put in place the LED lights, which will be illuminated by car batteries, and the porcelain figurines, which had been purchased by Ceccarelli's grandson years ago but only unveiled this season. Ceccarelli, the men said, hadn't been ready to use the new figurines.
"When he was unable to continue," Paul Riordan, past grand knight, said, "we picked up where he left off. We are keeping the tradition going in his memory."
Riordan, who will take one of the two-hour shifts with his 22-year-old son during the vigil from midnight Dec. 23 to midnight on Christmas Day, said he remembers how Ceccarelli would greet all visitors and treat them like best friends.
What impresses him most about time he has spent at the crèche are "the stories and memories people have of Nello. The hours go by fast."
Silent for a second, Riordan then smiles and recounts how every year before the group breaks down the crèche for the season, the same group of runners comes by on Christmas morning.
As they worked, the men stopped and waved to passersby and motorists, wishing them, "Merry Christmas." The window of one car rolled down and the passenger shouted, "Feliz Navidad!" to which the men reciprocated.
Riordan said upwards of 45 men from Knights of Columbus councils throughout the area will participate in the vigil in shifts over the three days. Members of the Knights of Columbus Council from Assumption Church have signed on for the midnight to 6 a.m. shift each day. Hav Tweedy said he travels from the St. Jude's Knights of Columbus Council in Monroe to volunteer his time. "I read a lot about Nello, so when I retired I was able to come down during the day," he said.
And Andrew Geisert of the Holy Family council remembers when he had to withstand the rain a couple of years ago. Geisert and his two sons, ages 8 and 10, will take a shift on Christmas Day.
As he worked out a few details with Kapitan, Grand Knight Ken Elwood said, "Nello was very inspirational to all of us."
The main focus for the Knights of Columbus councils involved in vigil, he said, is the same as it was for Ceccarelli -- "keeping Christ in Christmas."