By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – The sounds of the season will once again be ringing from St. Jean Baptiste Church Dec. 20 as the community comes together for the 34th Annual Community Christmas Celebration, an interdenominational Christmas gathering that organizers are hoping will once again bring residents and visitors together.
“It is essentially a carol service and it involves many of the local churches, school groups and others such as the Morinville Minstrels,” said committee chair Leanne LaRocque. “There’s an opportunity for the whole community to come together to celebrate the peace, love and joy of the Christmas season. It’s a real tradition here in Morinville.”
LaRocque said it is a good opportunity for friends and neighbours to step away from the commercial aspects of Christmas and come together for an evening of holiday song.
The event organizer believes the event continues to be popular in Morinville because it hits all members of the community and has a real community feel to it. Part of that community feel is due to the committee’s long-standing tradition of 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. Carol singing, scriptural readings, and the gathering together as one group regardless of denomination or adherence to any faith has filled the pews year after year.
But while the event draws a diverse group of participants, so too does it draw a diverse group of musical talent. LaRocque said the committee’s only ground rule is that the music must be religious based. Beyond that anything goes in terms of musical style.
This year’s celebration will once again bring together performers from the Morinville Minstrels Seniors Choir with students from local schools and musicians and singers from local churches, each taking a role in the programming for the evening. “It’s a unifying opportunity,” LaRocque said. “It gives each church who participates an opportunity to be seen in the community. Some of the smaller parishes have limited visibility. It gives every church who participates an opportunity to be seen in the community. In terms of fine arts in the community, it gives us the opportunity to see some of the groups we wouldn’t see. The Morinville Minstrels for example. They are a very active group and some of the churches that have excellent choirs. Only their own congregation sees them. It lets them share their gifts with the rest of the community.”
Former Morinville teacher, school board trustee, and Citizen of the Year John Unsworth started the annual celebration in the late 1970s. 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 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. It has done so for more than three decades.
LaRocque is hoping the community will once again come out and fill St. Jean Baptiste Church for an evening of song. “It’s the opportunity to get together with your fellow people in the community and share that special feeling of Christmas – the peace, love and joy of Christmas season,” LaRocque said. “That’s what people take away from them, that feeling of unity, the good tidings, and someone said one year they don’t feel Christmas has begun until they have attended the Community Christmas Celebration.”
That celebration takes place Dec. 20 at 7:30 p.m. at St. Jean Baptiste Church. Admission is free; however, donations to the Knights of Columbus Christmas Hamper program are welcomed and encouraged.