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The 2018 Our Lady of Belen Fiestas queen candidates are, from left, Savannah Lovato, 18, Breanna Maez, 18, Natalia Leon, 16 and Sami Carrillo, 18. Not pictured are Kayla Cameron, 16, and Angelique Madrid, 16. 

BELEN—It’s not all fiesta burgers and carnival rides. 

This year marks the 225th Our Lady of Belen Fiestas, an annual tradition that brings together the community to celebrate the bounty of the past year and honor the church’s patronage, said Fr. Clement Niggel.

“First and foremost, it is important to remember that as a community, we are joining together to give thanks to God for a wonderful, bountiful year,” Niggel said. “Many churches have fiestas on their feast days and this year, ours is on Aug. 18. It an important feast day of Mary and honors the patronage of our church.

“Second, it is always a joy to get together and have fun. We need more reasons to have fun in our community.”

The OLB Fiestas will be from Friday, Aug. 17, to Sunday, Aug. 19, this year at the church, 101-A N. 10th Street.

There will be a carnival, chile contest, food and vendor booths, puppet show, daily bingo, car show, dance contest and the best of New Mexico music, featuring Los Meros Meros-Blue Ventures, Sange Joven, Rhythm Divine, Black Pearl Band of New Mexico and more.

Carnival wristbands are available in advance through the parish offices for $20, a savings of $8 per wristband. Purchasers will be given a card that can be exchanged for a wristband at the carnival ticket office on the day of their choice. The wristbands are good for only one day of the fiesta. Lost cards will not be replaced. Call the parish office for information, 864-8043.

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The padrinos for the 2018 Our Lady of Belen Fiestas are, from left, James and Annette Montoya, and Cindy and Pete Benavidez.

Once again in keeping with tradition, two couples — both comprised of long-time parishioners — have been chosen to serve as padrinos during the fiestas. They help clean and decorate the church, sell tickets, collect money and whatever else is needed to make sure the event runs smoothly.

“It’s a huge honor,” said Annette Montoya. “This is such a wonderful community.”

Annette has been a member of the parish her whole life, and her husband, James, since he was a toddler.

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Suzanne and Dicky Romero were chosen as the parade marshals for the 225th Our Lady of Belen Fiestas.

“I am surprised and humbled to be chosen,” James said.

Their fellow padrinos, Cindy and Pete Benavidez, also used words like “honored” and “surprised” to describe how it felt to be selected.

“I’ve always wondered how they were selected,” Pete said. “Now we’ll get to help next year.”

Each year, the current padrinos assist in selecting their replacements by working with a committee and nominating four couples for the duty.

“After that, there are several meetings with Father (Niggel). They look for couples who are involved in the church and frankly, they are seeking out younger couples,” said Cindy.

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The 2018 Our Lady of Belen Fiestas princess candidates are, first row, from left, Deannda Gutierrez, 7, Candice Sanchez, 7 and Katerina Ward, 6. Second row, from left, Rayven Ward, 8, Maya Sisneros, 8, Riley Badger, 7 and Bailey Pena, 7.

Even though the parish is geographically large, James said it’s very close.

“We’re still tight. It’s like a big family,” he said.

At this year’s celebration, there will be more — more music, more vendors, more fun.

“This is the 225th year. We went a little overboard to make this one really special,” Niggel said. “Each year it improves more and more.”

Naeomi Trujillo, who coordinates the fiesta queen and princess contests along with Liz Marquez, said the contestants put in a lot of work to bring in new food vendors.

“The queen candidates helped get new food vendors. We have kind of expanded their role this year, to get them engaged with the community and the parish,” Trujillo said. “We want to get young people more excited about the church and their faith, their religion.”

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Danielle Roache, 12, St. Mary’s Catholic School was this year’s Our Lady of Belen Fiestas artwork competition. Her picture, in keeping with the theme of the 225th fiestas — Let us go rejoicing in the House of the Lord — portrayed the congregation singing and Fr. Clement Niggel at the pulpit.

This year, along with the traditional fundraising, candidates for Fiesta Queen vying for the scholarship that goes along with the title and crown, also had to write and essay and participate in a public speaking event, Trujillo said.

“This is for a scholarship for college so we want to get them ready to go out into the world and be a part of it and still hold onto their faith,” she said.

The annual OLB Fiestas is a time for families to gather and old friends to reconnect, Trujillo said.

“You know people always say, you see everyone you know at Walmart but everybody really comes to the fiestas,” she said. “When I was growing up whenever you heard ‘fiestas’ it was always a celebration of the community.

“No matter what race, religion or what part of town you were from, everybody came together for the celebration.”

Fr. Niggel reiterated that everyone is invited to celebrate and be a part of the fiestas.

“This is a community celebration,” he said. “This is not just the parish’s fiestas but our town’s fiestas.”

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