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World's largest Christmas choral festival right here in Portland, Ore.


The Grotto's Festival of Lights, marks its 22nd birthday this year. For a schedule of performances click here.
As children, Brett and Kevin Hilberg attended the Festival of Lights for years while their parents performed. Now all grown up, they continue the family tradition of volunteering at the festival. Brett Hilberg, left, is pictured working at the food booth with parents Jan and Duane, FOL food booth manager Kyle Faul and Hilberg family friend Jennifer, right.
Mid-County favorite, local Michael Allen Harrison at one of his many Festival of Lights performances. For the entire performance schedule, please see the advertisement on page 15.
Celebrating its 22nd annual presentation, The Grotto's Christmas Festival of Lights has grown tremendously over the years. In 1988 The Grotto's staff, with the help of many organizations and volunteers, cobbled together a 10-night lighting display with approximately 60,000 lights that featured 23 music concerts and welcomed approximately 10,000 visitors. The Grotto's Christmas Festival of Lights blends the sights, sounds, and emotions that are so much a part of the holiday season. Expected to welcome well over 50,000 visitors, this year's festival features a record-breaking 165 concert performances featuring many of the region's finest school, church and civic choirs.

The Grotto's executive director, the Rev. Jack Topper, recently said, “We've tried to find similar Christmas festivals, but so far none compares in the number of concerts and the nearly 7,000 volunteer performers who give their gift of music each year to our festival visitors. While it was not our intent and it sometimes seems hard to believe, The Grotto just might host the largest Christmas choral festival in the world. And it is right here in Portland, Oregon.”

Topper continued, “Choir directors regularly praise our chapel's acoustics as being among the finest in the region. Now many of them travel hundreds of miles to perform and regularly schedule their performance eight to 10 months in advance. We are very fortunate to receive such wonderful support from so many notable choirs.”

The blending of sights and sounds of the season with many well-known songs of Christmas and chapel acoustics makes The Grotto a perfect inspirational setting where so many magnificent choirs enjoy performing each year. Choir interest in performing at the Festival of Lights has been so strong that The Grotto now presents five concerts every night starting at 5:15 and finishing at 9:30 p.m. In addition to these magnificent concerts, The Grotto's festival displays well over half a million lights and offers a brilliant plaza filled with family entertainment including outdoor carolers and living history presentations.

Groups that have performed for nearly 20 years or more include Parkrose High School, Centennial High School, Touch of Class Chorale, David Douglas High School, Christ the King Choir, Encore Women's Vocal Ensemble, Madison High School, Sam Barlow High School, Gresham First Baptist Choir, R.A. Long High School, Mark Morris High School and Michael Allen Harrison. In addition to Harrison's annual concert, other professional musicians who regularly volunteer their talents include Jay “Bird” Koder & Friends, Opera Carolers, Dickens Carolers, Beltraine and Cantico: Portland Chamber Singers.

This year, 65 school choirs are scheduled, ranging from elementary schools to college choirs. This includes 12 Washington schools, with high school choirs from Aberdeen and Walla Walla traveling the farthest this year. Church choirs represent at least 12 Christian denominations. Over 60 community choirs are scheduled this year, including Cloud 9, Portland Boys Choir, Portland Symphonic Girls Choir, Oregon Chamber Singers, Satori Men's Choir, Vancouver Madrigal Singers, Oregon Children's Choir, Metro Arts Ensemble and Columbia Chorale of Oregon. The Salmon Creek Singers, St. Patrick's Church Choir, Salvation Army Brass Ensemble and St. Juan Diego Parish Bell Choir present other notable concerts.

The Grotto's festival is more than lights and entertainment. Really, it is about the spirit of Christmas and the community. The festival blends the joy and celebration of the season with a peaceful sense of serenity and reflection. Nearly 50 volunteers help staff the event each night, welcoming visitors with a heartfelt Christmas wish.

Brett and Kevin Hilberg's involvement is one of many volunteer stories. Their parents sang at the festival for 15 years with the Gresham First Baptist Choir. The young Hilberg loved the wonder and splendor displayed in The Grotto's surrounding garden grounds. Their annual outing to the festival became an anticipated highlight of the Christmas season as they visited the ever-popular petting zoo, watched the humorous puppet shows and talked with friends.

As they grew into men, the Hilbergs began volunteering at the FOL. Now, they volunteer each Sunday night in the plaza food booth. They feel volunteering is a wonderful way to share the Christmas message of hope and peace with family and friends as they give back to the community - and to The Grotto for giving this gift to others. They enjoy doing this as a family so much that they have recruited friends, who also have become regular volunteers.

During the festival's 33 nightly presentations, The Grotto needs about 1,000 volunteers who fill nearly 2,000 positions. Topper added, “We always need and appreciate our festival volunteers. Our small Grotto staff simply could not present this festival without them, and they add so much to the festival's welcoming community spirit.”

Over the years, an estimated 100,000 volunteers have offered their personal gift of time and Christmas spirit as singers, plaza greeters, chapel hosts, parking attendants and more to nearly 800,000 visitors. Electricians from NECA/IBEW Local 48 volunteer each year installing the festival's extra electric service. The Grotto's Christmas Festival of Lights opens Friday, Nov. 27 and continues nightly from 5 until 9:30 p.m. through Wednesday, Dec. 30.

The festival is a walk-through event, and visitors should plan to arrive at least 30 minutes prior to the concert they wish to hear. While all entertainment areas are full-tented and concerts are performed indoors, visitors should dress for the weather, including warm rubber-soled shoes.

Admission is $7.50 for adults and $3 for children (3 to 12 years of age). Children age 2 and under are admitted free. Festival visitors are also asked to bring a gift of canned or dry food to benefit SnowCap Community Charities.

Special group ticketing and holiday party opportunities in the Grotto's 200-person conference complex are also available. The Grotto is located at Northeast 85th Avenue and Sandy Boulevard. Ample free parking is available.

For other festival details, including how to volunteer, and for a full schedule of concerts, please call 503-254-7371 or go to and click the Christmas Festival of Lights link.
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