December 13, 2011 // Local

Christ Child Festival puts Jesus back in Christmas

FORT WAYNE — The first person you will see while attending this year’s Christ Child Festival is Carolyn Offerle, chairperson at the welcome table. And 2011 marks the 60th year of the festival that originated in Fort Wayne when a group of area businessmen came up with the idea in an attempt to remind the community of the true meaning of Christmas.

“The group felt Christmas was becoming too commercialized and wanted people to keep the focus on Jesus’ birth,” Offerle explained.

The festival has run every year since 1951 and made its original home at the South Side market before changing to a larger venue — the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum.

The beautiful tradition quickly spread across the United States, but has since faded out, everywhere but Fort Wayne, Offerle believes.

She added, “This is something Fort Wayne can be very proud of.”

During her senior year of high school, Offerle’s aunt enlisted her and other students at Central Catholic to be part of the first live Nativity. Offerle has attended the festival most every year since as a spectator and in recent years has served to greet people upon their arrival.

The St. Charles Borromeo parishioner is very knowledgeable of the founding members and countless volunteer hours so many have put in over the years to keep the celebration up and running.

Offerle lovingly referenced the first chairperson, Sylvia Miller, whose hard work and dedication were crucial to the event’s early beginnings. She recalled names like charter member Wally Borchelt, who served as chair for a good part of the past 60 years and other faithful stewards from Alex Bojrab to Dale Gerber, this year’s chairman.

This year’s theme is “Guide Us to Thy Perfect Light” and the event will take place Dec. 16-18. On Friday the doors will be open from 6-9 p.m. Saturday hours will be noon to 8 p.m., and Sunday the festival will run from noon to 6 p.m.

Offerle encourages ethnic groups and Christian churches of all denominations to attend, while families can bring their children to enjoy the many activities, including face painting, clowns, games and crafts.

The festival continues to oppose commercialism by offering the completely free venue (except for Coliseum parking), which features displays, booths, fellowship and refreshments without selling or solicitation.

Offerle detailed many of the exciting attractions that include various displays of Christmas around the world and a unique booth with hundreds of different kinds of cribs.

This year’s live Nativity will include an all-new line up of handmade costumes and live animals, including a special type of donkey with the cross of Christ on its back.

Those attending are only asked to bring a “gift” for baby Jesus in the form of a non-perishable food item for the Associated Churches Food Bank or a baby item to be donated to local crisis pregnancy centers. A veteran’s tree will also provide an opportunity to remember service men and women from the community this Holy season.

The event will feature a wide variety of musical performances including national gospel recording artist Peder Eide.

“I am looking so forward to hearing him for the first time. I understand it will be very stirring,” Offerle explained. A concert by world champion gold medal winner Voices of Unity Choir will also perform along with brass instrumental soloists, high school jazz bands and many other inspirational presentations.

For a complete schedule visit Christ Child Festival Inc. on Facebook or contact Dale Gerber at (260) 740-9008.

The festival is funded by free-will donations during the celebration and throughout the year. Many area churches and numerous businesses also support this meaningful cause. The group meets periodically to plan and strategize how to attract more attendees. They also continuously sponsor various bake sales and events to fundraise.

Offerle summed up the mission of the festival by quoting Borchelt: “If just one person comes to Christ through the festival, it is well worth it.”

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