'From Heaven Above to Earth I Come'


WILLMAR — Calvary Lutheran Church's Advent Festival, beginning Friday, honors Martin Luther and the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

The theme, "From Heaven Above to Earth I Come," comes from Luther's Christmas hymn of the same name.

Organizers Clarice Novak and Krista Willis call the festival "our gift to the community," a chance for a peaceful gathering to prepare for the approach of Christmas.

There is no charge for admission to the festival, which runs from 1 to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.

The festival has been held every two years at the beginning of advent since 1959.

Early this week, volunteers at Calvary Lutheran Church had begun the work of dismantling Thanksgiving decorations and replacing the pumpkins with Christmas trees.

Displays will be in a number of rooms in the education wing, and guests will be directed to move through the exhibits, ending in the fellowship hall for coffee and traditional Christmas treats.

The experience will begin with a cup of hot cider in the church's Friendship Room. There visitors will see a large white Christmas tree filled with memorial ornaments. Each ornament symbolizes something that was important to the person, whose name is on a tag attached to the ornament.

The nearby chapel will feature a display of nativities from around the world.

Special music is planned for the sanctuary, beginning with Willmar high school choirs at 1 p.m. Friday. As visitors walk through the church's chapel and education wing, they will find a variety of interactive displays relating to Martin Luther and the Reformation.

One room will be based on another hymn by Luther, "A Mighty Fortress is our God." Earlier this week, Joni Hanson, working on her 15th festival, was setting up a "fortress" using a wooden wall and papier mache "rocks." She was still trying to decide what some of the final touches will be.

Each year, her preparation involves some Bible study, as she reads about the subject she'll be portraying. "I've learned many things," she said.

"We intend for it to be a learning experience," Willis said. "For people coming through, it's a fun way to learn. ... If you aren't in the Christmas spirit, by the time you leave you will be."

Other rooms will have other Reformation-related themes. One will feature a short video about Luther. Visitors may even encounter Luther himself greeting people in the hallway.

An activity room will include three different crafts for kids, including a take-home ornament project. Novak said she started with the festival by volunteering with the crafts.

The entrance to the fellowship hall will be heaven, leading into the earth of the hall. There, vignettes will illustrate the verses of the hymn at the center of the festival. Coffee and traditional Christmas treats will be served there.

Novak and Willis said the festival involves the work of hundreds of volunteers. One evening this week, Boy Scouts helped with the preparations. All of the musicians are volunteers.

Decorating for the festival begins after Thanksgiving in preparation for the festival a week later, the culmination of many hours of pre-planning. "It all comes together," Novak said.

The goal for those who work on the festival is for their visitors to "have a bit of peace," Willis said.

For those who can't make it to Calvary, WRAC-8 will videotape the festival to run throughout the holiday season.