Christmas in the Park returns Nov. 25 and 26, bringing with it some old favorites and some new activities to enjoy.
The festival originally started in 1951 as the Christ Child Festival, Publicity Chairperson Judi Hapke said.
The festival was “really big” in the 1980s, but after that its popularity began to wane, she said.
“About five years ago we tried to put some life back into it,” Hapke said.
Since then the festival has moved to Franke Park and changed its name to Christmas in the Park, but the emphasis on Christ-centered free family entertainment remains.
“We just think it’s a neat opportunity for families who maybe can’t participate in all the other Christmas things that they have to pay to get in,” Hapke said. “The whole goal is to bring the focus on Christ in Christmas.”
Activities include horse-drawn wagon rides, writing notes to veterans and firefighters and making crafts.
The festival also focuses on activities that focus on the birth of Jesus, including “The Christmas Journey,” featuring youth theater troupe Fire and Light doing re-enactments; Big Blast Ministries’ balloon demonstration, complete with an “almost life size” Nativity scene; and even a camel in the Magi tent.
“One of the big attractions is the man who comes with the camels,” Hapke said. “He’s very knowledgeable and loves to interact with [everyone]. He wears a costume from the days of when Christ was born.”
There is even a Roman census taker, asking kids about how they heard about the festival and what ZIP code they are from. Hapke said people have come from almost coast to coast.
A new event this year is a thank you concert presented by several members of Fort Wayne’s Burmese community.
A large group of Burmese refugees arrived in Fort Wayne between 2007 and 2009, said Karen Blank, who works with some of them through Southwest Lutheran Church. She explained how the people had to find jobs and housing and navigate becoming U.S. citizens, which most of them have done.
The thank you concert, Blank said, “is a celebration of what they have accomplished and it is also a thank you to the good Lord for giving them Fort Wayne to receive them with all of its jobs and housing and education and opportunities and all of those good things.”
The concert will involve Christian volunteers from the Karen community, a group of people from Burma, singing Christmas carols, both in English and in their native language.
“They do want to involve the people who are there; they do want them to sing along,” Blank said.
Soe Moe, the youth leader at Southwest Lutheran Church, will also deliver a message.
“I was going to do a little message from Matthew, Chapter 2 on how Jesus came down as a baby child and as a refugee too to this Earth. So going deep into that in the Scripture and also related to [the fact that] we came as a refugee here to America and also share the story with that too,” he said.
One participant, James Shwe, said he is excited to participate in the concert.
“To me it will be a great pleasure to express our thankfulness to these people, this country,” Shwe said. “It will be a blessing to share our faith with [those] who might [have lost] touch with their faith a long time ago and … [by] giving the message there will be kind of renewal in their life. That’s what we’re hoping.”