NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Some years ago, the town board of Fairfield, Connecticut passed a local ordinance about religious symbols being displayed on public land. They weren't anti-Christmas. But they were worried about getting sued. There was a complaint by someone with a lawyer over the manger scene that had been displayed under the large spruce tree on the town green.
The ordinance said that religious displays on public land were were ok, as long as they were put up by a private group, and so long as they were not left unattended.
I was a radio reporter at the time, and I reported on Nello Ceccarelli, an elderly, devoutly religious man who put up the manger on Christmas Eve, and sat near it on Christmas night until Christmas morning. It was a very cold Christmas eve, and Nello sat bundled up in a lawn chair until the following morning.
The next year, Nello brought a second chair with him. Perhaps some well-wishers would want to stop by and sit with him awhile during the night. And a few hearty souls did.
As Nello got older, people from his church offered to spend the night with him in the cold. He'd only have to stay for an hour. Others would take turns keeping vigil over the manger. Nello insisted on staying the entire night, He said the experience had become deeply moving for him. But others were welcome to join him. And they did. People would stop and visit. Some would pray at the manger. Others would join voices and sing Christmas carols. One year the Knights of Columbus sent their honor guard to stand watch.
My last year in Connecticut I brought my kids to the Fairfield town green to show them what was going on. That night more than a hundred people were there sharing the holiday spirit. "This is the true meaning of Christmas," Nello said to me and my kids on what would be our last Christmas before moving to Wisconsin.
I'm not sure if Nello is still alive. He was an old man when I first met him, and his health was failing the last few years. I'm certain there are still people gathering at the manger on the town green.
Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau