A heavy arch of water splashed down on a crowd of children huddled in excitement and anticipation.
It was not your typical Catholic blessing, but it’s the way Guadalupe celebrates the feast of St. John the Baptist every year.
The children squealed as a firefighter sitting atop a Guadalupe fire truck sprayed water this way and that in the searing summer heat.
"It’s like a blessing," said Marco Campoy as his son Marcel, 7, raced back to him drenched. "It’s cold!" Marcel cried.
This was not the feast of St. John the Baptist of yesteryear by any means.
Decades ago, children of this little East Valley town would get up at dawn on June 24 and celebrate the saint who baptized Jesus — by playing in the canals.
Toni Campoy, a thirdgeneration Guadalupe resident, said of the new tradition, "The fire department, they are blessing the children and the people who are getting wet. We’ve always been culturally motivated to continue our culture and our traditions."
Concerns over safety led the traditional ceremony away from canals long ago. Friday afternoon, at least 500 community members gathered at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church plaza on the same dusty ground where Guadalupe was first founded.
The eighth annual Dia De San Juan, otherwise known as the Feria De Agua (Water Festival), is sponsored by the community group Centro de Amistad, which in the 1980s joined with the church to revive the religious celebration.
Initially, the celebration was a simple watering tank in which children would take turns swimming, in ritual baptisms.
The ceremony has since become one of Guadalupe’s biggest community events.
"It’s a community-building event," said Annette Molina, director of grants and corporate development for Centro.
Though the town can’t afford a pool, area families and business sponsors made do with their own supplies.
A small plastic blue wading pool sat outside the old Spanish-style church as children slid down a blown-up water slide and ran through a blown-up bouncy.
Volunteer Stacy Valenzuela repeatedly was dunked — her own blessing of sorts, as children threw balls at the dunk tank.
Some also received free haircuts and trims — a tradition residents say is also associated with St. John, who was beheaded according to Scripture.
Martin Sanez, 10, came with cousin Maggie Samaniego, 9. Both said they understood the roots of the tradition were to honor a saint — but they were having a blast.
"It’s a happy day!" Martin said.