By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – The sounds of the season will be ringing from St. Jean Baptiste Church this Thursday evening as Morinvillians come together for the 32nd Annual Community Christmas Celebration, an interdenominational Christmas gathering that organizers and participants are excited about.
“It’s exciting in a large way because it’s continued for 32 years,” said committee member Leanne LaRocque. “We on the committee just feel it’s outstanding that a community keeps a tradition like this alive for that many years. We have adults attending now that participated when they were students in school. Now they are bringing their kids to it.”
LaRoque attributes the longevity of the annual Christmas tradition to maintaining the event’s original intent of not being merely a Christmas concert where people come to watch people perform. Rather the magic of the event is its participatory nature.
“There’s carol singing and readings, so people feel involved in it,” she said. “They’re not just watching their children or church groups perform. In that way, people feel involved and as though they’re part of it. Truly, by the end of the celebration people are shaking hands with each other and wishing each other a Merry Christmas. They leave with a feeling the Christmas season has really begun. It leaves them with a good feeling, and I think that’s what brings people back year after year.”
LaRoque said the annual event is a great opportunity for the whole community to come together regardless of what church they belong to or if they belong to a church at all.
“It really gives people the opportunity to feel the Christmas spirit and the reason for the season with their friends and neighbours,” she said.
Organizers are hoping new members of the community will also come out and participate in the evening celebration. “This is an evening where they can connect with other people in the community, feel a link to others, and see there are groups coming out sharing their musical talents,” she said, adding she believed it will make newcomers truly feel a part of the community.
This year’s celebration will bring together performers from the Morinville Minstrels Seniors Choir, École Georges P Vanier School, Notre Dame Elementary School and George H. Primeau School as well as St. Jean Baptiste Church, Morinville United Church and Morinville Christian Fellowship, each taking a role in the programming for the evening.
LaRoque said the Christmas celebration will run approximately 75 minutes in length, allowing people to get their children home and in bed so as not to affect school the next day.
The annual celebration was started in the late 1970s by John Unsworth, a former Morinville teacher, school board trustee, and Citizen of the Year. In its inaugural year, staff and students of École Georges P. Vanier School invited parents and the general public to a traditional Christmas concert in the school’s gymnasium.
The response was so positive that Unger organized the first full Community Christmas Celebration the following year at St. Jean Baptiste Church, inviting other Morinville churches to participate in the event.
Over the next eight years the event evolved into what organizers say was the community’s most anticipated annual event.
Unsworth moved to British Columbia in 1988 at which time the annual celebration was taken over by a small group of dedicated volunteers who wanted to see the event continue.
The Community Christmas Celebration takes place Dec. 16 at 7:30 p.m. Donations to the Knights of Columbus Christmas Hamper program are welcomed and encouraged.