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The Journal Gazette

  • Mike Malachi and his son Chris Malachi visit the petting zoo Sunday at Franke Park during the final day of Christmas in the Park. The festival has been held almost every year since 1951. (Photos by Brett Luke | The Journal Gazette)

  • Emily Elder enjoys one of the many games offered at Christmas in the Park.

Monday, November 27, 2017 1:00 am

At festival, all is about Jesus

Children enjoy animals, games at Christmas in Park

ASHLEY SLOBODA | The Journal Gazette

Singers took the stage without rehearsal Sunday, belting out carols as Christmas in the Park neared its final hour.

While not spontaneous, the vocalists were performing just as organizers intended – as an impromptu choir. Attendees choosing to participate in the scheduled activity received a folder of lyrics and a red scarf to sound and look the part.

The two-day festival, which was sponsored by Christ Child Festival of Fort Wayne Inc., brought more than music to Franke Park. Attractions included children's games and crafts, horse-drawn wagon rides, a petting zoo and balloon sculpting.

The festival's focus was simple: The reason for the Christmas season, said Judi Hapke, publicity chairperson.

“There's nothing like it,” she said.

Instead of Santa Claus, Christmas in the Park showcased actors from Fire & Light Academy portraying various biblical characters, such as Mary and Joseph, in a recreation of the streets of Bethlehem.

Bekah Guntle, who portrayed a jewelry vendor, invited visitors to try on a headpiece as they passed her booth.

“A lot of people do, actually,” she said, adding the item reminded many of Cleopatra.

The festival, which fell between the busy Christmas shopping days known as Black Friday and Cyber Monday, also fostered a sense of giving back. Attendees could write notes to veterans and firefighters, and they could contribute to the Little Dresses for Africa Project – which gives handmade dresses to girls in need – by donating money for postage.

The event has been held almost every year since 1951, although the name and location have changed.

Hapke was unable to provide an attendance estimate, but the event's website indicates a previous year attracted about 10,000 people.

Paula Thomas and her family were among those who stopped by Sunday after seeing it advertised at their church. She laughed as she took a photograph of her children, nieces and nephews with the camels, whose handler guided the animals to a spot immediately behind the kids.

The event sounded like a fun activity for the youngsters, Thomas said, saying it also had a good focus: Everything's about Jesus.