by Stephen Dafoe
A local choir has saved an annual Morinville Christmas tradition from extinction. The Annual Community Christmas Celebration, an inter-denominational evening of Christmas music at St. Jean Baptiste Church, was in danger of ending after 37 consecutive years due to lack of volunteer availability. The Morinville Minstrels have stepped up to take over organizing the event and ensuring Morinvillians can ring in the holiday season as they have for nearly four decades.
This year’s event takes place at St. Jean Baptiste Church on Wednesday, Dec. 21 at 7:30 p.m., a move from the Thursday of past celebrations.
“We were told it was going to be cancelled due to lack of volunteers,” Morinville Minstrel Diana Moquin told Morinville News, adding the event was previously run by a group of local school teachers, some of whom have now moved away or could not fit it into busy schedules. “The Minstrels have stepped up to try and help.”
Judy Baker, another Minstrel, was hit hard at the prospect of losing the music tradition. “We need to keep it going,” she said. “I brought it forward to the Minstrels, and Diana and I talked. This [event] has been going on in the community, bringing everybody together for so long, that we can’t let it just go. Next year it might now happen again, and then it’s gone. We just didn’t want it to go by the wayside.”
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 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.
Above: Morinville Minstrels and community volunteers gathered for a planning meeting Nov. 28 to carry on the 38th Annual Community Christmas Celebration. – Stephen Dafoe Photo
Carrying on a holiday tradition
The Minstrels are now that group of dedicated volunteers. Together with singers from Morinville schools, churches, and community choirs, the Morinville Minstrels will host the sounds of the season. Lifelong Morinville resident Sheldon Fingler will be the emcee for this year’s Celebration.
Minstrel Carol Kaup said the annual event brings Morinville and surrounding area residents together for an evening of song and an opportunity to kick off the season together.
“It’s just a night where you can actually have the hair on your neck stand up because it’s so beautiful, so reverent,” Kaup said. “It’s just wonderful. I cannot imagine Christmas and being here without it.”
That celebration takes place Wednesday, Dec. 21 at 7:30 p.m. at St. Jean Baptiste Church. Admission is free; however, donations to the Morinville Food Bank are welcomed and encouraged.