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Carols by Candlelight in Canterbury – how it went

by on December 31, 2011

The songbooks were printed. The musos had rehearsed. The candles were bought. And the sausages. Good sausages! The broke PA was fixed and returned in the nick of time. The Christmas tree had been decorated by enthusiastic helpers!

Come Friday, we began set up. The grounds were decorated. The BBQs came out. The PA and music gear accumulated. More and more helpers arrived and got to work!

We had letter-boxed around 3000 homes. We were pretty sure some people would come – a number of families had told us they were in. But how many? 70? 700? We were hoping for somewhere in between!

By 5.30 the atmosphere was rich with expectation and the smell of BBQ. The grounds looked festive. Last rehearsals were taking place here and there – anxious children were wandering around vaguely, clutching at scripts.

Dinner was advertised at 6.30, but the locals didn’t wait for that. They started arriving from 6 onwards. It soon became apparent that we were going to have a big crowd. By 6.30 there was a queue stretched across the property, ending at the BBQ!

Our friends from the morning congregation and the Islander church worked valiantly to serve up several hundred tasty Christmas meals. Good job!

Satisfaction levels seemed to be high as the community relaxed and ate and drank together. It was hard not to be happy, with Santa hats given to all the kids, Maryleigh playing jazzy Christmas numbers on the Clavinova, and the lovely Victoria singing Italian opera for us. Wow!
Victoria
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By 7.30 the grounds were crowded with several hundred people. Old people, kids, and everyone in between. I’d say 3-4 hundred. We quickly accomodated a couple of last minute additions to the band, and got started. The crowd settled down for some serious carolling.
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Carols, welcomes, carols. Then we invited the crowd to come up and say ‘Merry Christmas’ in their own language. We had reps from many cultures come up. The first up was a little greek girl,
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who approached the mic and said to me “Do I have to?”! Once it got going, we heard Gallic, Vietnamese, Arabic, Greek, Italian, Turkish, Hungarian, French, Cantonese, Mandarin, and many others I can’t remember now. It was beautiful. BUON NATALE!

More carols, then some kids’ performances. Songs from the Tongan kids: they won some hearts that night! Then a bunch of other kids performed the Christmas story in about ten episodes, using dramatic storytelling techniques. Some were more dramatic than others(!) but the audience were definitely on side!
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A young story-teller

The band were starting to sound pretty good, we had drums, trumpet, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, keys, bass and singers. The crowd were getting into the singing, and carols were rippling across the grounds and out into the streets.
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It was starting to get dark, and high above us the big pine tree was coming alive! On the ground, candle flames were springing up one by one, as Nicole and her team distributed them through the crowd. It was beautiful to watch! The best carol singing is always after dark by candlelight.
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Campbell gave a talk about God’s rescue mission to his world, and the kids played with melting wax. Victoria sang a beautiful solo of O Holy Night, that had the audience spellbound.

A local lady had sowed up a huge lot of organza lolly bags, which Elise and her team had filled with the seasonal good stuff, and these went out to the hoards of famished children of Canterbury – poor things – to nourish them through the rest of the evening. Amazing what a chocolate santa can do for morale!
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As the night became truly dark, one of my favourite items came on: a group of local Italians got up and sang us a famous Italian carol – Tu scendi dalle stelle. With guitar and clarinet accompaniment, it was pretty special.
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Finally the carolling drew to a close.
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Our TEAR shop had sold around $400 worth of Extremely Useful presents, and a collection bucket had raised the same amount again. WE were able to announce that we had raised enough on the night to buy a cow and goat and a vege garden for needy people OS! That was a beautiful way to end the evening – we had done something together as a community, something good.

The band jammed on as the crowd dispersed, we were having too much fun to stop! One local lady approached me on her way out: ‘It’s so nice, this… community!’ she enthused. ‘We’re so glad you guys have come to Canterbury this year!’ Moments like those, they kind of make it all seem worthwhile…
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A really large number of people seemed to be staying around to help pack up. That was an unexpected blessing. One friend couldn’t make it to the carols, so he just came to help clean up!
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I wandered around in a bit of a daze, doing nothing much useful. I was glad that so much of the local community had come along to share Christmas with us. I was very glad that people were feeling some community with each other, that there was so much good will in the air, and that it was happening around Jesus. I was relieved that we’d muddled through with really not that much organisation.
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Thanks to everyone who worked hard to make it a great night!
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Our nativity scene

Thanks Father for Jesus!

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