Celebration to unite community with song

Notre Dame Choir Sings Mary's Boy Child

by Morinville News Staff

Morinville – The sounds of the season will ring out from the newly-renovated St. Jean Baptiste Church Dec. 19 as the community comes together for the 35th Annual Community Christmas Celebration, a seasonal interdenominational evening of Christmas music that organizers are hoping will bring residents and visitors together as it has for the past three-and-a-half decades.

Organizers believe the event continues to be popular in Morinville because it hits all members of the community and has a real community feel to it. “I guess it’s the feeling of what that night is,” said committee member Nadine Trenchard of the event’s longevity, adding the committee is grateful to Leanne LaRocque for her efforts in running and keeping the event going in recent years. “There’s always been that small group of people who are willing to keep it going because of what it gives the community for that evening.”

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, scripture readings and gathering together as one group, regardless of denomination or adherence to any faith has filled the pews year after year.

“It’s fantastic. We’re there in a Catholic church, but it doesn’t matter what church you belong to every other Sunday,” Trenchard said. “We all come together for the birth of Christ. That’s our central purpose for being there.”

While the event draws a diverse group of denominations, it also draws a diverse group of musical talent. The committee’s only ground rule is that the music must be Christmas music; beyond that anything goes in terms of musical style. This year’s celebration will once again include the Morinville Minstrels Seniors’ Choir, student choirs from local schools, musicians and singers from local churches, each taking a role in the programming for the evening. The Bulger Family will return to the holiday tradition, leading carolers in song, and local businessman and rocker Paul Smith will take to the stage this year to offer his unique take on a Christmas carol classic.

Long history

Though Trenchard is now organizing the event, she has memories of attending as a child in the days when former Morinville teacher, school board trustee, and Citizen of the Year John Unsworth was running the event. “As a little girl I was taught piano by John Unsworth and then, when the celebrations started, I remember going year after year,” Trenchard said. “There is just something special about that evening and having everybody sing Let There Be Peace On Earth at the end. It’s a wonderful, feel good evening.”

In its inaugural year in 1978, 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. 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.

Trenchard is hoping the community will once again come out and fill St. Jean Baptiste Church for an evening of song and celebration. That celebration takes place Dec. 19 at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free, but organizers are asking for monetary donations to help the Knights of Columbus ourchase perishable food items for the Christmas Hamper program. The perishable items supplement the non-perishable food that has already been received.

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