It's one thing to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, quite another to have hearts as beautiful as the place we call home.
You could see the radiant heart of our community on Saturday at the Dundarave Christmas Fair. In the middle of a rain storm (that's what the season looks like in our corner of the North Pacific), hundreds of people were jammed into the Festival Longhouse by the time Mayor Mike Smith took the stage. The Mayor called attention to the fact of homelessness in our community, and how it is entirely within our capabilities to make sure no one is left out in the cold.
The proof of his claim was lined up, over a hundred voices strong, behind him. By themselves, the North Shore's Burstin with Broadway choir has raised over $2,100 for the Lookout Emergency Aid Society's North Shore Shelter. Each tree in the Dundarave Festival has its own pledge page, a "cyber tree". Burstin With Broadway has shown its vibrancy and life as a community by lighting up its "cyber tree" a roman candle. This community has by itself brought in 10% of charitable donations to the North Shore Shelter this season. Without singing single bar of a Christmas song — they only do Broadway, it's show tunes all the time — this choir exemplifies the true spirit of Christmas
Borrowing from La Cages aux Folles, the choir affirms "We are what we are, and what we are needs no explaining". It became clear to everyone on Saturday that this includes having hearts as bold and vast as the North Pacific.
Mayor Smith lead us in the magic words that lit up the Festival's 100 Christmas trees, its "forest of miracles"; the gilded youth of the West Van Youth Band lit up the night with brilliant fanfare.
When they ended their set, the Lookout Emergency Aid Society's Executive Director, Karen O'Shannacery, OBC took the mic. She told us the story of a phone call she'd received earlier in the week from a West Vancouver resident, the descendant of a number of generations of West Vancouverites.
"Sally" had lost her home and her children due to her husband's violence. The violence had also triggered a profound anxiety disorder. She was en route to yield to her suffering by taking her own life, when she stopped in at the North Shore Shelter.
"Do you have a better plan for me?" she asked.
The answer they were able to give her was powered by the Festival's Christmas trees. These trees have raised over $100,000, thanks to the generosity of tree sponsors like Burstin With Broadway. The Lookout Society has used this money to fund its transitional support program. While the federal and provincial governments give money to the Shelter for emergency assistance, rescuing people from our beaches, ravines and streets, they provide no funding to allow these most vulnerable members of our community to get back on their feet. The Festival's Christmas trees do this.
Karen told us the Shelter was able to place "Sally" in its transitional support program, where she received the loving, professional support to heal and return to herself. She had phoned Karen to say that her children had been returned to her, that she had built a new career, and secured a new home of her own. "Sally", like Burstin With Broadway, shines with a heart as big and bold as the North Pacific.
From Mayor Smith's courage and candour in naming the truth of homelessness, to this choir and one woman's astounding strength, we saw the beauty of our community at the Dundarave Christmas Fair.
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.