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The Grotto's 14th annual Festival of Lights offers sights, 
sounds, and hopes of the holiday season

The 14th annual Festival of Lights is open nightly at the Grotto, on Sandy Boulevard at Northeast 85th Avenue. The holiday message of hope and peace takes on added relevance at this years event. The Festival of Lights is open through December 30 — except Christmas Day. It is a family event.

The Grotto celebrates the holiday season with family entertainment, spectacular displays, and message of peace

Are you ready for the beautiful sights and sounds of the holiday season? Then the Grotto offers a special experience. It is the 14th annual Festival of Lights at the Grotto. The Memo spoke recently with Dana Schmidling, The Grotto's director of Marketing and Community Relations, about her thoughts on the 14th annual Festival of Lights at the Grotto. Schmidling is both Marketing director and Festival of Lights coordinator at the Grotto.

The 2001 holiday Festival of Lights at the Grotto opened Nov. 28, and continues nightly — except Christmas — through Sunday, Dec. 30. This year's theme is "O Holy Night".

Expected to welcome over 45,000 visitors during its 33-evening presentation, this ecumenical Christmas celebration is open nightly from 5 until 9:30 p.m. with the Grotto's garden grounds closing at 10 p.m. Visitors are asked to bring a donation of canned or dried food, which will go to SnowCap, Mid-Multnomah county's emergency food ministry. 

Admission for adults is $6.00 and children ages 3 to 12 get in for $3.00. Children under 3 years of age are admitted free.

"For many of us," Schmidling said, "Christmas brings images of silent, star-filled nights, strolling carolers singing of angels on high, a sparkling tree beside a warm fireplace and the smell of hot apple cider shared with family and friends."

"For others," Schmidling continued, "this busy season might just bring the hustle and hurry, parties and presents, traffic and tinsel." Schmidling continued to share. "When you think back to your earliest holiday memories," she spoke, "back to the anticipation and joy of Christmas morning, ideally your childhood celebrations are filled with both family love and confidence in your future. Now, whether your Christmas is star-filled or a whirlwind of activity, hopefully there are moments when you strive to recapture the serenity, mystery and joy which is Christmas. Especially this year, after the events of September 11, the Festival of Lights has an added reason to celebrate its basic message, reminding us all of the better angels of our nature, on display, every night."

While it has grown considerably over the years, the festival's annual presentation continues to blend the sights, the sounds, and the emotions which are a part of this wondrous season.

This ecumenical celebration appeals to every person looking for the true spirit of Christmas. The Memo has personally attended and volunteered at several of the Grotto's Festival of Lights celebrations in the past. Each one has something new to see and hear, and it has become a tradition with us. The Mid-county Memo heartily urges every reader of this neighborhood newspaper to attend. Go once, and you will want to make it part of your holiday every year.

"Our hope is to provide a special holiday celebration focusing upon the real meaning of Christmas," said Father Jack Topper, executive director of The Grotto. Christmas is a time to awaken, to light up our hope and faith,ä said Father Topper. ăOur faith in Christ, our faith in ourselves and our loved ones. Our hope for the future — that goodwill and peace on earth will prevail," he continued. "The Grotto's Festival of Lights expresses the new life, new hope and new love we all may share during this special season and throughout the coming years." To express these feelings, at the entrance to this years event, a Christmas "Tree of Peace", will be on display with all visitors asked to write a message of hope and prayer that will then be hung on the tree.

Each year the Festival of Lights adds something new. This year, in addition to the "Tree of Peace", what is new is the visitors complex, opened in March, it has nativity sets on display from over 120 countries.

Schmidling told us that the Festival of Lights is widely recognized as the largest choral festival in the Pacific Northwest.

"The Festival of Lights features many of the regions finest school, church and civic choral groups performing in concert at the Grotto's 600-seat chapel," Schmidling informed us, "known for its cathedral quality acoustics."  Schmidling understates the fact that the chapel is awe inspiring both in sight and sound. Music groups, who regularly schedule appearances at the Festival of Lights a year in advance, travel from as faraway as Seattle and Walla Walla in Washington, along with Eugene and Tillamook in Oregon.

Many professional musicians also perform, all on a voluntary basis. The list includes composer, pianist, and Parkrose High School graduate Michael Allen Harrison, harp-style guitarist Dale Van Wormer, and blues guitarist Jay "Bird" Koder.

"There will be 141 indoor music concerts performed over the Festival's 33-day run," Schmidling continued. "Family entertainment includes puppet shows, an animal petting zoo, pony rides, and outdoor caroling."

Seasonal Food and beverages will also be available. The Festival of Light features, of course, lights. This year over one-half million lights will light spectacular lighting displays, animated lighting displays, narrated fiber optic displays, and other dramatic lighting effects focusing on the story of Christ's birth. The living history theater is also a yearly festival feature. Hourly, semi-professional actors present the festival's living history program.

Volunteer help is always in demand for this yearly festival. Over eight hundred volunteers are expected to help with the presentation of the 2001 festival. Families, individuals, groups, and community organizations that are willing to donate as little as three hours on one evening during this holiday season are asked to contact the Festival of Lights volunteer coordinator Gloria Jost at 503-261-2408. Volunteers are needed as greeters, hospitality hosts, ticket sellers, gift shop attendants, parking patrol, food booth helpers, office assistants, and even as St. Nicholas.

The Festival is a walk-through event. Due to parking lot expansion, there is plenty of free parking, even during peak times. While all entertainment areas are fully tented and all concerts are performed indoors, visitors should dress for the weather, including warm rubber soled shoes. The average visitors stay lasts 75 to 90 minutes. The festival is fully accessible to the disabled.

Tickets are available at all Ticketmaster outlets and at The Grotto's gift shop during the day. Tickets are also available nightly at the ticket booth. Discounts are available to group tours of 15 or more with advance reservations. Please call 503-254-7371 to make your group reservations.

The Grotto, an internationally renowned Catholic sanctuary and one of Portlandâs leading visitor attractions, is located on Sandy Boulevard at Northeast 85th Avenue. A non-profit organization established in 1924, The Grotto welcomes over 150,000 visitors annually from both the local and global community. For further information about both the Grotto and The Festival of Lights, please do not hesitate to telephone Dana Schmidling, Director of Marketing and Community Relations for The Grotto at 503-254-7371. On the other hand, for additional, helpful information you can also visit The Grotto's website at:



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