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Crowd Adores Rowayton's Nativity Ritual

NORWALK, Conn. – Fifth-graders and adults many years their senior performed a beloved Rowayton ritual in the cold and dark Saturday night for an admiring crowd.

Julie Arsenault was the Virgin Mother Mary, holding a lit-up doll in her hands and wearing a 48-year-old cloak. Tom Ward played Joseph, and about 30 fifth-graders wore white sheets to play angels. Others shepherded sheep and goats about the field. Adults performed roles they have been doing for 48 years as hundreds of people watched.

Rowayton's annual Nativity Pageant has been a community event since 1963. "It started after the assassination of Kennedy to pull the community together and to think about better things," said Eric Rambusch, a member of the choir for 15 years.

"It's a miracle every year," said Tim Walsh, a faithful attendee since 1996. "It's the most treasured thing in Rowayton. It's lovely."

Searchlights added to the ambience at Rowayton Elementary School, with the beams of light reaching up into the sky behind the nativity. Christmas trees were arranged as a backdrop for the scene.

Jane "Putsie" Ritchey, who founded the event, said the nativity was the same as it always was except there were more angels than usual – about 30.

Julia Curtin, 10, and Tess Jordan, 9, were among the angels.

"The halo didn't feel like anything, and I like the sheets," Julia said.

"It's really fun," Tess said. "You walk on the side, and you hold a flashlight. But then you walk around back and stand in the bleachers and the trees open. You get to see the baby glow. You basically stand with Mary and Joseph and worship the baby."

Their actions were all according to a script written by Howard Lenters, a CBS-TV director, in 1963.

The show lasted about a half-hour, the same as it has always been. The Mary costume is the same one used since the beginning, Ritchie said, and is in remarkably good shape.

She wasn't sure how many children were involved. "We never know until they appear," she said. "Everybody does their own thing, and they've done it for so many years, and the kids have been in it for a few years so they know the drill."

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