Each December, hundreds of thousands of Catholics descend on the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City in celebration of the feast day of Mexico's patron saint, the Virgin Mary, who is also known as the Blessed Mother or Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The celebration each year by the Spanish congregation at St. Nicholas Church in Egg Harbor City could hardly match that display, but it is still an important event in the church calendar.
St. Nicholas church member Kathy Garcia, who has seen the celebration in Mexico City, said its splendor is overwhelming.
"It's so beautiful," Garcia said. "I wish more churches down here would have it - it's hundreds and thousands going into the church just to pray."
The celebration takes place each year on Dec. 12 to commemorate the 1531 appearance of the Virgin Mary in Mexico City to a peasant named Juan Diego. St. Nicholas will hold its celebration on Dec. 9 on the church grounds.
At 2 p.m., a procession of decorated cars will arrive at the church carrying the statue of the Virgin Mary, which will be brought into the sanctuary. There will be a series of traditional Mexican dances set to music performed by a live band, after which there will be a reception.
One of the dances, the Danza la Apaches de Guadalupana, will be performed by children in the church, and this year marks the first time these younger congregants will be involved in the celebration. Garcia, who organized the children's participation, said it's a good way for the Spanish congregation, most of whom are of Mexican descent, to hold onto their culture.
"It's a traditional thing, they come to the U.S., they kind of get more, I don't want to say Americanized, because they come into our culture," said Garcia, who was born in the United States of Hispanic heritage. "They should never have to lose their culture. It's so beautiful, the dedication they have to the church."
The children form two lines and dance through the sanctuary to an altar at which one child stands, dressed as the Virgin Mary.
Then they take their places surrounding the pews, and another child, dressed as Juan Diego, approaches Mary.
Erika Ramirez, who will be dressed as Mary, said the dance gives her a better understanding of the saint's appearance nearly five centuries ago.
"It's important because we get to see what really happened, acting like them, so we get to have a chance to actually see what kind of happened," the 12-year-old said.
Irving Delgado, who will be dressed as Juan Diego, said he is excited to reenact the event.
"I think it's cool because I can dress up become something cool from like a long time ago," the 9-year-old said.
Irving's father, Agustin, watched his son proudly at a recent rehearsal for the celebration.
An immigrant who still recalls attending the celebration in Mexico City, Delgado said he is looking forward to the event at St. Nicholas.
"We remember about the old kinds of things from Mexico, the dances going to the basilica, the Cathedral de Guadalupe, you can see a lot of things, dances," Delgado said. "You feel it, you feel it so much."
Contact Braden Campbell:
If you go
Our Lady of Guadalupe Festival
St. Nicholas Church, 525 St. Louis Ave., Egg Harbor City