While most school children used Friday, Oct. 29, to dress up for Halloween, the children of Mother Seton School took the opportunity to celebrate All Saint's Day, observed Nov. 1.
"To me it's teaching them about life and about good character," said Marisol Rodriguez, first grade teacher. "Everyone can be called to be saint."
The All Saint's Day celebration has become a tradition at Mother Seton School for the last five years. All the students from kindergarten to eighth grade put on a class presentation about the saints for the school before going out to march through the streets of Union City. The students and even the faculty come to school that day dressed as a saint of their choice.
"I chose Saint Isaiah because he was a pastor, and pastors are important to me," said Milton Vargas, 8, third grade.
Parents were also invited to the celebration, and often join their kids during the parade.
"I think it's fantastic how they encourage these kids to celebrate All Saints Day and not just Halloween," said Charles Matamoros, 29, of Union City.
Students prepared for the day for about a month. Each year the children choose their saints and conduct research them in order to learn about their lives, and how they came to be canonized. In addition to that, however, they are taught about as many of the different saints there are during class.
Some children, who come from parents with very religious backgrounds, have been named after saints and choose those to emulate.
"So now they also learn about the meaning of their name," said Rodriguez. "Each week we learned about a different saint and about their life. I learned myself."
Other students chose saints whom they most admired from their weekly lesson plans.
"I picked St. Joseph because he was the father of Jesus and he was a carpenter, and I like to do carpentry," said Augustine Vasquez, 8, third grade.
Starting off the day's festivities was Jennifer Bautista, sixth grade teacher. After a few opening remarks and explaining the significance of All Saints Day, Bautista began to introduce all the classes as they took center stage with their presentations.
First up was the kindergarten class, who introduced their saints and shared a little about their history. "I'm Saint Mary because I would like to be her," said Valerie Villalobos, 5, kindergarten.
The rest of the classes followed in consecutive order and did a mix of performances which included singing, prayers, and skits. In the third grade's presentation the children sang a song and used sign language.
Some of the most well known saints emulated on All Saints Day include St. Michael the Archangel, one of the Bible's principle angels, and St. Francis of Assisi, a young wealthy man who gave up his lavish lifestyle and spent the remainder of his life in service to God. St Francis was also the founder of the Franciscan Order of friars and nuns.
The sixth grade class performed a few short skits depicting the lives of saints including St. Barbara, who was beheaded by her own father after refusing a marriage proposal and proclaiming herself a Christian.
"I chose her because she was very pretty and she wanted to give her life to God," said Melanie Rodriguez, 11, sixth grade, of her role as St. Barbara.
St. Barbara was an example of a martyr in the Catholic Church, which describes those who were put to death for their religious beliefs.
"Now they know what a martyr is, when they give their life to God," said Rodriguez.
"I'm St. Agnes because she was nice and she was a martyr," said Lydia Cornel, 9, fourth grade.
The eighth grade wrapped up the presentations with a short joint production about the life of St. Ignatius Loyola, a once glory-hungry knight who found peace in service to God. The students of this class gave the tale of St. Ignatius a contemporary spin as they created their own adaptation for the school, which proved to be the favorite among the classes.
"I liked the eighth grade play because it had a lot of action and it was so dramatic," said Kevin Rivera, 11, sixth grade.
"I think everything is precious, my great grandchildren attend this school and this is my second year attending," said Mercy Salazar, of Long Branch. "Everything was very beautiful and this helps the children understand our faith. It's a tradition. We always come to help when we can and fulfill our duty to the church."
Immediately following the presentations, each class lined up and proceeded to exit the gymnasium. Using Union City Police escorts, the children and faculty of Mother Seton School marched through the streets in their saints' costumes singing songs of praise. Once they returned to the school, each class returned to their rooms for a little celebration with their peers followed by early dismissal.
"They are so proud to show what school they're from," said Rodriguez. "This really goes to show that [the students] can come and enjoy dressing up, but they celebrate something with meaning that didn't have to be scary or about death."