The courtyard of St. Croix’s Government House was filled with the cheerful sounds of happy children Saturday afternoon, as Gov. John deJongh Jr. and first lady Cecile deJongh handed out gifts at the annual children’s holiday party.
Over a hundred children showed up at the party for a chance to receive one of 3,000 gift bags from the first couple. As the giddy children sat whispering in Santa’s ear (thanks to Chris Finch, the commissioner of the Department of Human Services,) the governor would give them their bags and their eyes would light up with excitement.
The blue recyclable bags included the beautifully illustrated hardback book “The Lesson Box,” by St. Thomas author Tregenza Roach, and either a teddy bear for girls or a truck for boys. The inside cover of the book contained a special print run with a signed message from Cecile deJongh about the important lessons taught in the book. Roach was on hand to personalize each book.
The first lady said that when the annual Christmas party started a few years ago, and they handed out gifts, she thought it would be more beneficial to include a book to promote literacy among the territory’s young children. Additionally, she said it just made sense to include books from local authors as part of the giveaway.
“It’s really nice to run into kids saying that they got the books and that they read it,” the first lady said. “I also get notes from the parents sometimes telling me that it was a nice way for their children to learn about the importance of reading.”
DeJongh has worked continuously to help improve the Virgin Islands’ literacy rate, and is the spokesperson for the territory’s Big Read initiative, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Roach sat at the table smiling as he signed each book, personalizing them for the children, seemingly proud to be part of the first family’s educational campaign.
“I feel really good that they asked me, and I’m glad for the opportunity to get a book like this to children,” Roach said.
The author has published several books, including poetry and short stories, but “The Lesson Box” is his first book for children.
Pamela Depusoir, Roach’s cousin, was excited to see that the event brought so many people, and was happy to bring her granddaughter to get her own book signed.
“He’s a very talented author, and I think this is a very nice event – it’s wonderful that the governor is doing this,” Depusoir said, smiling.
The governor said that he wanted to have one large Christmas celebration, which is why it is no coincidence he chose the party on the same day that the annual Boat Parade will be lighting up Christiansted.
“I wanted to combine the arts and crafts fair with this party, and really just make it a community event,” the governor said. “I really just wanted to set the right tone and it’s just a nice way to kick of the holidays.”
The holiday spirit was definitely in the air as Christmas tunes blared and volunteers dressed in red as “Santa’s elves” helped guide the children as they waited in the long line to sit on Santa’s lap.
“This is the most fun I’ve had all year,” Finch said about playing Santa. “I just like seeing the look of wonder in the little children’s eyes and see what the magic of Santa Clause does to them.”
Parents and grandparents seemed thrilled to have a day that seemed entirely focused on their little ones. Jonisha Stamers brought her three-year-old daughter, Jah’Niyah Applewhaite, who waited patiently in line for the chance to see Santa and meet Roach.
“This is something nice for the kids, and the educational stuff is good,” Stamers said.
One grandmother, Alma Rivera, said it was her first year attending the children’s party and she absolutely loved it.
“This is just beautiful, and nowadays children don’t want to read, so this book will really help them,” Rivera said.
The children’s party, which started at 1:30 p.m. and went until 4 p.m., fell right in line with the 5th Annual Christmas Fair from 11 p.m. to 5 p.m., which was right outside of Government House and full of tents with vendors selling traditional Crucian food, local drinks, and arts and crafts.
The next children’s holiday party will be Dec. 17, on St. Thomas at Emancipation Garden from 3 to 5 p.m., followed by the third and final party on Dec. 19, on St. John at the Battery from 5:30-6:30 p.m.