Christmas is coming to North Tonawanda in a big way this year. Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish is planning a special Advent celebration beginning Dec. 1. Food, fun and the Holy Family are all on the calendar. Activities include a Christmas play, a tour of the 86-year-old church and a traditional Wigilia dinner.
Although many of the elements of the program are familiar to the parish, this is the first time the parish has planned such a huge undertaking.
"My intention was to focus our liturgical events to bring the community and the Church together. I'm trying to hit different generations," said Patricia Burngasser, director of development for OLC. "We have a lot of new families in our church, and they're not just people from North Tonawanda. We have people coming from Lockport, Niagara Falls to join our parish. There are people who haven't gone to church in a long time, and have come back to the Catholic Church."
The parish will bring in television star Frank Runyeon to do his production of "3 1/2 Stories of Christmas." The former soap opera actor plays the role of an angel in training that prepares the audience for the coming of Christmas by telling the entire story of the Bible from his point of view. He adds St. Nicholas as the final half story.
"I thought it would be a different way of bringing Advent to the church and the kids here, giving them a different opportunity that would be related to Christmas. It's a nice start to the Advent season for us," said Kathryn Kockanovich, the Faith Formation director, who invited Runyeon. "It's nothing that has been done here. I think the families and the kids will have something to look forward to."
The performance will take place in the church Monday, Dec. 1, at 7 p.m.
On Saturday, Dec. 6, the parish will host a Polish Wigilia meal, an OLC custom for 25 years. The meatless meal will have pierogi, fish, herring and sauerkraut. The dinner typically draws 150-200 people.
"We sing Christmas carols and do the traditional blessing of the (oplatek) wafer and exchange Christmas greetings with everybody," said Ted Klis, who organized the dinner.
Since Advent would not exist without the Nativity, Father Gary Szczepankiewicz, OLC pastor, will organize a living Nativity to be held outside in the church grotto to precede Midnight Mass on Dec. 24.
"I just thought it would be kind of inspiring if we, people from our parish, did a living nativity," he said. "Hopefully it will be 11:30 at night before Midnight Mass, outside in our grotto. Nothing real fancy. Hopefully with some music. I think sometimes visual aids are important. If people see this, hopefully the whole meaning of Christmas will really click in. I hope it will leave some sort of impression as to what the whole season is truly about as we celebrate, not only as a parish community, but within our own families too."
It can be hard to find camels this time of year, so Father Szczepankiewicz has opted for the Charlie Brown version with just Jesus, Joseph, Mary and shepherds.
The program is rounded out with other traditions. A tour of the church followed by a luncheon will take place Wednesday, Dec. 3. The Old World Christmas Cookie Shoppe and Santa's Workshop will be open Sunday, Dec. 14, beginning at 11:30 a.m. A trip to Fatima Shrine in Youngstown will be held Friday, Dec. 19. Also, every Sunday in December, a special Children's Mass will be held at 10:30 a.m. Two watercolor paintings by artist Jody Ziehm will hang behind the altar throughout the Advent season.
Father Szczepankiewicz hopes the program will inspire people to open up their hearts to what the season is truly about.
"Sometimes we get so blown away with all the commercialism and everything else on TV that we lose what the season is about. I think as a parish community we really need to do that together, by living out what that whole season is about," he said.