Pernalynn Camacho, 11, tagged with her parents and her three siblings to see for themselves Friday night's ceremonial lighting of a towering Christmas tree in Susupe that her father, Corrections officer Felix Camacho, helped erect with other government workers and minimum security inmates. Like most children in the crowd, the 11-year-old Camacho couldn't contain her amazement.
“It's nice, it has lots of colors. I feel the season is going fast,” the William S. Reyes Elementary School fifth grader told Saipan Tribune moments after the switch was turned on to light up the Christmas tree and Nativity crèche.
The lighting of the 30-foot Christmas tree and the Nativity crèche at the parking lot of the Pedro P. Tenorio Multi-Purpose Center in Susupe a day after Thanksgiving marks the start of the holiday season for many in this predominantly Catholic community.
“It's nice to see the lighting up of this Christmas tree with your whole family, especially because you know you helped in making it, from the ground up,” said Corrections officer Camacho, gazing at the Christmas displays in front of them, along with his wife Esterlita and their children ages 6 months to 11 years.
Christmas carols also filled the air, courtesy of the Zion Choir of Kristo Rai Parish, Vox Angelic of Mount Carmel Cathedral, and the United Filipino Organization.
Jashlie Reyes said she took her 9-month-old son Jayvin to the lighting ceremony, after seeing her son's father, Derik, on the Saipan Tribune front-page photo on Nov. 21 as the man on the roof of the Nativity crèche, helping place colored light bulbs around the Christmas tree.
“That's his dad. We're happy to be here, knowing he's one of those who helped build this,” the mother said, moments after taking photos of her son in the lit up Nativity display itself.
Esther Fleming, vice chair of the First Lady's Vision Foundation, said they hope to “help spread the spirit of Christmas in the CNMI” by spearheading the annual Christmas tree and Nativity project. The project is also made possible by the Women's Affairs Office, the Office of the Governor, the Department of Corrections, the Department of Public Works, and other private and public sector donors.
“As we officially begin the holiday season, I hope that our people will see this place as a reminder of the joys and tidings of Christmas... The comfort of spending time with loved ones, the freedoms we enjoy and the joy we feel during this season are the greatest gifts of all. So as we begin this season of peace and joy, let's remember those who are less fortunate and those who are alone this holiday season,” Fleming said in her remarks at the ceremony.
She said people should also remember those who can't be home for the holidays-“especially all our brave men and women serving abroad.”
“We pray for each of them and their families,” Fleming said, referring to military and reservists from the CNMI stationed across the globe.
Fleming and Remy Buniag, treasurer of the First Lady's Vision Foundation, turned on the switch at 6:45pm on Friday, lighting up the giant Christmas tree and Nativity. Fleming is the governor's special assistant for administration, while Buniag heads the Women's Affairs Office.
First lady Josie Fitial was not feeling well on Friday so she wasn't able to attend the lighting ceremony. But other government officials were present, including Attorney General Joey Patrick San Nicolas, Corrections Commissioner Ray Mafnas, acting Public Works secretary Antonio A. Camacho, press secretary Angel Demapan, and Danny Buniag of the Office of the Governor's special projects office. Fr. Jesse Reyes led the blessing of the Christmas tree and Nativity scene.
Danny Buniag, from the governor's office, said the First Lady's Vision Foundation and the government have been able to dramatically cut the cost of putting up the Christmas tree and Nativity, compared to the time it was started by former lieutenant governor Tim Villagomez.
Buniag said the project's power bill and construction used to cost an estimated $10,000, but this has been reduced to some $5,000.
“We recycled the materials, we sought the help of minimum security inmates and other government personnel, and we would only be turning on the Christmas lights from 6pm to 10pm starting Nov. 23, and three days before and during Christmas, from 6pm to sunrise to save on power costs,” Buniag said in an interview.
The First Lady's Vision Foundation invites the public to see the Christmas displays during the holidays.