For 15-month-old Lucia Gereda, it was a chance to really have fun and enjoy the festivities.
The toddler had been brought to the Winterfest celebration shortly after birth last year, only 16 weeks old, and parents Hector Gereda and Maria Garcias didn’t feel she was able to appreciate it.
This year, there was a look of amazement on her face and an occasional smile as she watched the goings on.
“We wanted her to enjoy everything,” Garcias said. “She was only four months old last year, and it was too cold.”
The festival was held this year on Thursday, Dec. 5 – a school night – and still drew thousands of residents to the nine blocks on Bergenline Avenue between 76th and 85th streets.
Starting outside the main library, a holiday parade featuring several floats and vehicles had inaugurated the celebration.
Activities included performances from student chorus groups at township schools, numerous rides and games, visits from popular children’s characters, and free photos with Santa and Mrs. Claus. In addition, attendees were also treated to food and music.
Many others besides Gereda and Garcias had a great evening.
Residents having fun
Adamarys Galvin of 84th Street was there and having a super time with her four children.
“Oh my God, it’s so much fun,” she said. “This is a great thing the town does for them – and it’s free. It’s a beautiful night.
“We’ve been coming for the past seven years,” Galvin said. “Once we even came in the pouring rain, because once you’re here, you can’t leave.”
George Grioli, 14, a freshman at North Bergen High School, was there with three of his buddies; Bryan Acosta, Darshan Patel, and Christopher Agudelo.
“We came to check out the fire trucks,” Grioli said. “I’m meeting my mom with my little brother, Gabriel, who’s 2. I’m also seeing people I know and hanging out with my friends.”
“Oh my God, it’s so much fun. This is a great thing the town does for them – and it’s free.” – Adamarys Galvin
“She’s been here for the past eight years, and I brought her each time,” he said. “She likes everything. It’s Christmas time, and this is the best time to celebrate. This is a big thing for her – and for me.”
North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco said he started the Winterfest celebration two decades ago as a small celebration and it has now become the township’s biggest annual community event.
“We wanted to do something fun for the holidays, for the entire community,” said Sacco.
The festival started out as a Saturday afternoon activity in competition with youth athletics, college football telecasts, and early Christmas shopping.
“It was very small, about one or two hours,” said the township’s chief executive. “Then we made it larger, and it evolved into what it is today.”
Year by year the celebration grew, until now in its 20th year, it’s a small-town festival second to none.
North Bergen Police Chief Robert Dowd estimated the crowd at nearly 5,000. In the spirit of the holiday season, Dowd said that several dozen officers from his and the County Sheriff’s departments volunteered their time for Winterfest.
“These guys know it’s a great event for the families,” he said.
Among those also attending were Assembly Speaker-Elect Vincent Prieto, Assemblywoman Angelica Jimenez, County Surrogate Donald De Leo, Commissioners Hugo Cabrera, Theresa Ferraro, Frank Gargiulo, and Allen Pascual, and Interim Schools Superintendent George Solter.
Kathy Somick was the event organizer, and had help from a cast of dozens.
Winterfest usually runs from 6 to 10 p.m., but was cut short about an hour due to rain a little after 9 p.m.
Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.