Santa Claus and gifts, while they’re wonderful things, are not the true reason we celebrate Christmas — which the annual Christmas in the Park hopes to bring to the public’s attention.
The event, which took place on Nov. 25-26 at Franke Park, seeks to bring Christ back into the holiday celebration.
The festival got its start in 1951 but it slowly began to wane until five years ago when Publicity Chairperson Judi Hapke and others sought to breathe life back into it.
Their goal was to provide a free holiday festival while also ministering to local families, she said.
Outside the pavilion where the festival took place sat a firetruck where families gathered to meet the firefighters and tour the truck.
The pavilion featured several booths run by volunteers representing the military, law enforcement and firefighters. At these booths, guests could put forth prayer requests and send letters of encouragement or thanks to veterans, EMTs and firefighters. Down a way, a booth run by Little Dresses of Africa could be found. This organization, with help from their five hand-sewing groups, provided dresses for guests to send to children in need around the world.
The goal of the organization is to not only provide clothing but also to minister to the children who receive the dresses.
“If you can meet their physical need it opens the door to meet their spiritual need,” Ellen Dixon, one of the many people involved with Little Dresses of Africa, said.
This was the organization’s fourth year of participating in Christmas in the Park, sewing 500 dresses, more than they’ve ever had before, she said.
One of the many kid-friendly booths was run by Big Blast Ministries. This group created balloon figures for guests before taking to the stage and telling the story of Christmas with a life-like balloon Nativity scene of their own creation.
Pastors Steve and Janet Rayburn, the founders of Big Blast Ministries, have been doing this full time for 12 years, though it was the group’s second time at Christmas in the Park. The couple and their family have traveled to 28 states, Canada and even Honduras to minister to children there through balloons, puppets, illusions and more.
“It’s what God called us to do,” Rayburn said.
Just outside the pavilion was perhaps the biggest hit of the festival: the two dromedary camels owned by Bob Hudelson. Hudelson himself was dressed in clothing that one might have seen a shepherd wear at the time of Jesus’ birth. This clothing, though, was made by his wife. He said his family has “always loved critters” and has been doing this for 30 years, traveling with his camels all over Indiana, Ohio and Illinois.
Two tents could be found at the festival, one housing a likeness of the town of Bethlehem where volunteers from local churches played the parts of citizens making pottery, woodworking, calling for a census and running the no-vacancy inn. The second tent was full of games and activities for children, most of which were run by volunteers from Concordia Lutheran High School’s swim team. A small petting zoo also resided in this tent with a goat, sheep, pig, chicken and several rabbits not far from the stage where several performances took place.
Brian and Shelia Grillett experienced the festival for the first time this year and said they appreciate the petting zoo with its “soft animals” and the way the Spirit was of such great focus there.
For more information regarding the event and how to get involved for the 2018 Christmas in the Park, visit christchildfest.org.