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Parishioners at St. Rose of Lima in Carlisle pray the rosary before the rocking of the Christ Child tradition Dec. 24. Parishioners at St. Rose of Lima in Carlisle sing Mexican lullabies to the Christ Child while rocking it during this Mexican tradition. “Godparents” from each family rock the family Christ Child and present it for kisses of adoration, passing out treats to children in attendance at St. Rose of Lima in Carlisle. Following the rocking of the Christ Child at St. Rose of Lima in Carlisle, parishioners line up to kiss each Christ Child and receive treats from the godparents. All photos taken by Father Shaun Wesley.

Parish rocks Christ Child after Christmas Eve Mass

Latino parishioners in Carlisle continue tradition from Mexico with songs

Published: January 15, 2024      
Father Shaun Wesley
A statue of the Christ Child is rocked by “godparents” selected by the family during this Mexican tradition at St. Rose of Lima in Carlisle.

Following Christmas Mass, parishioners at St. Rose of Lima Church in Carlisle celebrated a Hispanic tradition that brings a community together — the rocking of the Christ Child, or the Acostamiento del Niño Dios. 

The rocking of the Christ Child tradition serves to remind communities of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem and the reverence of the Baby Jesus. The tradition often takes place at home and in the homes of loved ones. Families choose godparents from their relatives who will rock the Christ Child in a blanket. A series of songs are sung, each with a unique meaning — one song asks Mary for permission to sing to the Christ Child, while another serves as a lullaby. In recent years, instead of carrying out the tradition at home, parishioners at St. Rose of Lima have moved the tradition to their parish hall.

Father Shaun Wesley, who has been the pastor of St. Rose of Lima for eight years, said the tradition at the parish started 10 to 15 years ago. 

“It has grown a lot since I’ve been there because we’ve really promoted it as part of our schedule of events for Christmas,” he said. 

“I participate in the Rocking with great emotion at St. Rose of Lima,” said parishioner Juana Zermeno. “My favorite part is the adoration of the Baby Jesus. My Baby Jesus has his important place in my room, with my images of my other saints which I have devotion to.” 

Parishioner Maria Ramirez recalled how the tradition started in her family.

“In Mexico, at my parents' house we started rocking the Baby Jesus when they gave one to my mother, because in some places they have a tradition that the Christ Child is given as a gift,” Maria said. “From there, each year he would not be placed in the manger until after the Rocking and Adoration of the Christ Child.”

Father Wesley said the devotion takes place at the end of Christmas Eve Mass when everyone is invited to bring their Baby Jesus to the front of the church. After Mass, about 150 people gathered in the parish hall for the pastor to bless 22 statues.

“After the Mass was over, everyone went to the parish hall and prayed the rosary,” Father Wesley said. “Our form of praying the rosary is a very extended form with a lot more prayers and litanies. Normally in English, we’re done with the rosary in 15 minutes. But the way (the Latino community) prays the rosary, it’s about 45 minutes.”

Following the rosary, the chosen godparents of Baby Jesus formed lines across from each other. The godparents place the family’s Christ Child in a blanket or handkerchief and rock him back and forth, singing songs.

“One specific song is really sort of a lullaby to Jesus,” Father Wesley said. “One of the main phrases in the refrain of the song is ‘rorro,’ because that would be the ‘shhh’ sound for Hispanic people that they use when they’re rocking a baby to sleep.”

Once all of the songs have been sung, one godparent holds the statue of the baby Jesus, while the other holds a platter or basket of treats. Everyone present forms a line and devoutly kisses each statue and receives a piece of candy or a cookie or a treat from each godparent.

Other family members and participants give goodie bags full of treats to the children in attendance, and many children leave candies and treats with their family’s Baby Jesus in his manger.

“It took over 30 minutes for everyone to kiss the Baby Jesuses,” Father Wesley said. 

Parishioner Margarita Paz remembers participating in the tradition every year since she was 6 years old.

“They are important memories that we made with our grandparents, later with my parents, and now I teach my children this Mexican tradition. It doesn't matter that they are not in Mexico — our traditions are always there to follow,” Paz said. “Sometimes we see our friends more often than our own blood family in Mexico. And in a country far from our blood, these traditions make us more family, not so much by blood but by heart, like Father Shaun.”

Paz said she keeps the Christ Child in her house year round. 

Virginia Ramirez said she started participating in the tradition when she was 3 years old.

“I participate in the rocking of the Christ Child in St. Rose because it is a way to bring together all our families, friends and our community,” Virginia said. “My favorite part of the rocking is all the people passing by and kissing Baby Jesus.”

After the devotion, the families take their Christ Child home and place him in a manger.

“Some families do the next step on Epiphany and some wait until Feb. 2, the presentation of the Lord,” Father Wesley said. 

The next step is the raising of the Baby Jesus, where the Christ Child moves from laying in the manger to sitting in a chair, “because the statues of Baby Jesus are designed specifically where they can sit up,” Father Wesley said. 

The Christ Child will then sit in the house all year in his chair until next Christmas, a tradition referred to as “Levantamiento.”

“The Baby Jesus is not just for Christmas,” Father Wesley said. “He is present all year, he’s laying in the manger during the Christmas season, but then he’s seated in a chair for the rest of the year until Christmas, when they do the rocking and put him in the manger again.”

“We raise the Christ Child on Jan. 6 at the arrival of the Three Wise Men,” Paz said. “We break the traditional three kings bread, pray the rosary and sing to the Baby Jesus, ‘Get up little boy, you're already tired of lying in that manger.’”

Father Wesley said the Hispanic tradition also caught the attention of Anglo parishioners at St. Rose of Lima. 

“I think there is sort of a wonder and awe and a love for Jesus that’s displayed (in this tradition) with everyone going around and kissing each Baby Jesus,” Father Wesley said. “It reminds me a lot of the veneration of the cross on Good Friday, and it’s the same when we devoutly kiss each Baby Jesus.”

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