In our hemisphere, Christmas Eve does not fall on the darkest night of the year. It comes to us three days after the winter solstice, marking a resolute shift in the orientation of the Earth that sees our days grow longer and the Sun stronger as the North turns its face toward summer. It comes to us at a moment when we've had quite enough of 4 pm sunsets, a miracle so ordinary it could pass without notice. It comes as a proof that the darkness cannot overpower the light.
We saw the truth of this repeated many times over during the four Saturdays of the Festival's absolutely free Christmas concerts on Dundarave Beach, a constant affirmation of the light in our community that darkness cannot overcome.
If you were in the Festival's Longhouse on our first Saturday, you would have seen the power of this when the Youth Choir of the Sarah McLachlan Music Outreach struck up their cover of Sarah's powerful hymn to the beauty of living, "Ordinary Miracle". The sun was strong and two eagles perched in the crown of a tree high above the roof of our longhouse.
You would have seen this truth again on our second Saturday, as the Squamish Elders in regalia blessed the Festival site and welcomed the return of the Dundarave Nativity. It is in the lines of the new king, Melchior, and the 700 hour labour of love Master Carver Bill Seminoff committed to carving this dignified and powerful work.
It found its voice repeatedly, in the uplifting diversity of the performers at the Festival's World Christmas, from Laurell's down home and passionate song book to the VOC Sweet Soul Gospel Choir, the epic sound of El Mariachi and the unrepeatable moments we shared with Silk Road.
And just as the days were contracting, as though the light would never return to us, we faced the darkness together on the Festival's Christmas Wassail and Bonfire Night and answered the night with song, fearless Morris dancing and, through the unfailing courtesy of the District of West Vancouver, a twenty metre bonfire.
We could answer the darkness because the heart of this Festival of Lights is the light every family, every senior, every couple brings to it. It's the light in the Festival's tree sponsors, the light in the generosity of the North Shore section of the Real Estate Board and West Vancouver's heroic Firefighters' Benevolent Association, who together have seen a donation this season to the Lookout Emergency Aid Society's North Shore Shelter of $25,000. This brings the total the Festival has raised for the Shelter over the past three Christmases to $75,000.
In all of this the generous grant the Festival received from the Department of Canadian Heritage allowed us to build the Festival site, with the tireless expertise of Wild Coast Productions creating a beautiful and welcoming space against even the worst weather. The grant for Canadian Heritage allowed us to stream over $30,000 in new funding to the performing arts in our community. This has allowed, to pick two shining examples, the West Van Youth Band to commission a new work to mark its 80th anniversary and the St. Thomas Aquinas Show Choir an easier passage to compete in San Francisco.
The darkness we've answered is the cold pull of indifference and isolation that could eat away at the roots of our community; the belief that we are strangers to each other. We've seen the opposite in the Dundarave Festival of Lights this year. It shone out in the faces of the wheel chair bound neighbours, the families and seniors, the kids who shouted their lungs out during our Mummery plays and got their praise on with the VOC Gospel Choir. Before the days turned to summer, there was the warmth, light and life of summer in all of us -- gathered in the Festival Longhouse and sprawled out into the forest of Christmas trees. A light the darkness cannot over power, it shines out in each of us as the true spirit of Christmas and the best spirit of our community.
On Saturday when the Elders of the Squamish Nation gathered, in regalia, in the Festival's Dundarave Nativity Pavilion a brooding and prayerful quiet fell over the Beach. The sun was as high as it can get at this time of year, low on the horizon and heading faster than any of us would like it to set behind the jagged ridges of Vancouver Island. The Elders' purpose, and the sincerity of the way they expressed it took your breath away, was to honour the nobility and goodness of the spirit in everyone gathered at the Festival, pressing in all around them in the Pavilion. They placed our Master Carver Bill Seminoff at the heart of the site, asking him to stand beside Melchior, the second king of the Dundarave Nativity, honouring the 700 hour labour of love Bill had poured into this carving to make sure it would be ready for this Christmas. Lead by Wes Nahanee, they raised their hands above their heads in the highest form of greeting and then they lifted their voices in song, signing in the first language heard on this beach thousands of years ago.
We did not know at the time that all of them were carrying with them the pain of a terrible act of violence that took place the night before in their neighbourhood. There was only a powerful dignity in their faces, a deep joy welling up as they struck the drums and sang those ancient words. This was a moment of grace borne out in music, and when they finished their first song of blessing the crowd gathered around them, and most of us had not heard anything like this before, fell into something like a silent awe until Wes Nahanee said "It's alright everyone, you can make noise if you want to". And then the ovation came, rolling like a peal of thunder from everyone gathered round.
At the end, after the Elders had made their procession from the Dundarave Nativity Pavilion to the Festival Longhouse, they said this was as it should be, that all of us in all of our diversity -- from the first peoples to walk on this Beach to the people from every corner of the planet who now join them here, should enjoy the freedom of living in peace and joy of this afternoon every moment of the year.
There was a different joy, but the same spirit, when Cheko Tohomaso took centre stage at the Festival Longhouse with his VOC Sweet Soul Gospel Choir. He drew it out of us, setting spirituals and standard carols to a rollicking Motown vibe. You could not keep silent, or keep your feet still in the presence of a choir and a choir director who named the importance of our moment with soul.
And so the Festival continues to its World Christmas, doubly blessed.
The Dundarave Festival Society
We are a circle of friends working in the Dundarave Festival of Lights Society to bring to life the promise of Christmas in our community, a season of life, passion and purpose that leaves no one in the cold. This is community-driven social change, in the true spirit of Christmas and the best spirit of our community.