INNISFAIL – As citizens flocked to the Christmas Market at the downtown Innisfail Royal Canadian Legion Branch #104 to shop and meet Santa Claus there were a group of carollers heading west to sing at the Innisfail Festival of Trees at the Innisfail Library/Learning Centre.
While the Innisfail Alliance Church was staging an eastside outdoor Live Nativity presentation hundreds of motorists were stopping downtown across the legion to give generously to the 27th annual Innisfail RCMP Charity Check Stop.
All of this was holiday season joy at its finest, the small-town rural Alberta way and Innisfail’s humble signature of the times; challenging but never insurmountable and always from the heart.
“There's nothing like an event like this to build community and have people get out and forget about the worries of climate change and war all over the world and stuff like that,” said Blaine Staples, the chamber’s president, who saluted the organization’s manager Jen Chabot for “spearheading” this year’s Hometown Christmas inside the legion. “It's an event that's been going on for many, many years in town. Everybody looks forward to it the first weekend of December.
“And the whole goal is to get people out to do some shopping around town and keep their money local and visit to see their neighbors.”
Lead organizers of Hometown Christmas welcomed scores and scores of locals who stopped by to get an early dose of the holiday spirit.
Amidst the many booths of vendors offering wide selections of gifts and crafts, Santa Claus was busy handing out little goodie bags. Mrs. Claus gave out free cookies. Citizens visited each other at tables over a coffee.
And sleigh rides from Double T Percherons were offered outside for a short but enjoyable trip to the Innisfail Fire Hall where hot chocolate awaited them.
“I just wanted to make it look fun and festive. I wanted it to look like a little hometown,” said Rose Hartwin, manager of the Christmas Market at Hometown Christmas.
And if folks at the market felt an extra dose of giving, the charity check stop was just across the street where they could also get more treats, even ones for their dogs and cats, courtesy of Innisfail’s Nestle Purina.
“Everyone seems to be happy and getting into the holiday cheer, which is really what we're after,” said Innisfail RCMP Const. Craig Nelson, the lead organizer of the charity check stop. “We got gift cards from different places. We got some coffee that was donated.
“We have a whole bunch of different things from our local businesses trying to support the people who are donating to our charity checks up,” he added. “Everyone has just been amazing.”
This year’s Hometown Christmas celebration was graced with extended mild weather, and there was plenty of sunshine to go with the above zero temperatures.
That made conditions perfect for the outdoor attractions at Eastgate Mall where the Innisfail Alliance Church put on its own Hometown Christmas, created as a complement to the festive spirit of the chamber’s initiative.
Outside was petting zoo that had friendly llamas. There was also a well-attended Live Nativity production, where friendly sheep gently passed by spectators sitting on blocks of hay.
“We want to bless our community. Certainly, people have been going through some tough times,” said Pastor Dave Wiebe, adding the Live Nativity was started in 2022. “We just wanted to share the story of Jesus with the community, and we thought this would be a great way to do it.
“We're grateful to be able to join with the community in this,” he added. “So yes, we want to serve our community by doing this.”