By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – The sounds of the season will once again be ringing from St. Jean Baptiste Church Dec. 14 as the community comes together for the 33rd Annual Community Christmas Celebration, an interdenominational Christmas gathering that organizers are hoping will once again bring residents and visitors together.
“It is an opportunity for people from all across the community to come together to really share in the spirit of Christmas regardless of what church they belong to or whether they belong to a church at all,” said committee member Leanne LaRocque. “There’s a wonderful spirit there. Some people who aren’t actually church goers have said this is their Christmas midnight mass event. There’s a spiritual feeling there, but they aren’t church goers themselves.”
LaRocque said the event continues to be popular 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. “It’s always a pleasant surprise, and it’s nice when we have some of the real upbeat tempo things,” she said, noting a hit last year was a fast-paced, gospel composition by the Bulger family. “That’s what adds to the program – the traditional carols, but also the more contemporary or the different arrangements.”
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. LaRocque said the theme for the evening focuses on Morinville’s centennial year, something that is fitting given the Community Christmas Celebration has been in existence for a third of the time Morinville has been a town.
To tie into the centennial theme, passage readers for the evening will range from two Grade 6 students to seniors. Additionally, individual numbers will be sung in English, French and German to capture the cultures that historically built the community.
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.
“He was a very well-respected and liked individual,” LaRocque said of the events founder. “To me it’s a tribute to the work John did here and how he established the celebration to keep the celebration alive.”
The Community Christmas Celebration takes place Dec. 14 at 7:30 p.m. at St. Jean Baptiste Church. Donations to the Knights of Columbus Christmas Hamper program are welcomed and encouraged.