Archbishop Charles Chaput and several hundred of his closest friends got a head start on next week’s Christmas celebration with a rousing Dec. 19 birthday party for the baby Jesus.

Balloons, cake and a live Nativity scene were among the highlights at the 64th annual Archbishop’s Benefit for Children Christmas Party, which took place at the Philadelphia 201 Hotel in Center City Philadelphia.

(Related: View a photo gallery from the Archbishop’s Benefit for Children Christmas Party.)

The event drew some 500 students in grades pre-K through five served by archdiocesan Catholic Social Services (CSS), which provides a broad array of support to children and families of all faiths throughout the five-county Philadelphia area.

The festivities kicked off with a live Nativity scene on the front steps of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center, located across the street from the hotel. Students from St. Raymond of Peñafort School in Philadelphia, under the direction of eighth-grade instructor Antoinette Reaves, reenacted Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem, while several animals (including a donkey, a llama and a few sheep) nestled among bales of hay.

Actor and singer Kamal Bostic-Smith, who appeared in the films “Underground Kings” and “Cost of a Soul,” greeted Archbishop Chaput with an a capella performance of “O Holy Night.” Bostic-Smith then joined the party’s various choirs – among them, the Divina Unción Choir, the Good Shepherd Singers of St. John’s Hospice, and the St. Charles Borromeo Parish Choir – to lead various singalongs of traditional Christmas carols.

(Watch a Facebook Live video of the Archbishop’s Benefit for Children Christmas Party.)

As partygoers snacked on cupcakes and opened gift packages at their tables, St. Raymond students presented a contemporary reflection on the Christmas message. When asked by a fellow performer what Jesus wanted for his birthday, one actor responded, “To let him love us.”

Following the presentation, St. Raymond students danced to a Christmas remix of the popular children’s song “Baby Shark.” Afterwards, the crowd sang “Happy Birthday, Jesus” as two St. Raymond students, dressed as Jesus and Mary, blew out candles on a large sheet cake.

The party wrapped up with a surprise balloon drop that master of ceremonies Father Christopher Walsh, pastor of St. Raymond of Peñafort Parish, insisted was not his idea.

“I take no responsibility for the outcome of this,” joked Father Walsh as red and green balloons descended on the cheering crowd.

Archbishop Chaput described the gathering as “a very touching moment in our church’s year,” and commended organizers and performers for making the true meaning of Christmas “very clear.”

The archbishop added that he was pleased to have the opportunity to “see not only the kids, but all the people who work for the church” through CSS’s outreach to area children.

Archbishop Charles Chaput wishes a Merry Christmas to a boy enjoying the Christmas party. (Sarah Webb)

The three-hour festivities cap what is actually a year-round fundraising effort, through which the Archbishop’s Benefit for Children works to help sustain numerous CSS initiatives. Among the tens of thousands served by CSS programs are children with disabilities, at-risk children and dependent or court-adjudicated youth.

The party ultimately reminds kids of the joy and hope that are at the heart of Christmas.

Darnell and Kayci, third-grade students at St. Malachy Catholic School in Philadelphia, agreed that Jesus would have enjoyed the gathering’s balloons and music.

Ten-year-old Trinity, who attends CSS’s Out of School Time aftercare program at Holy Innocents Parish in Philadelphia, said she welcomed the opportunity to say “Happy Birthday” to Jesus.

“I’m just really happy to know God was a kid,” she said.

Children dance at the annual Archbishop’s Christmas Benefit for Children held Dec. 19 at the Philadelphia 201 Hotel. (Sarah Webb)