BY TOM LAVIS
Members of the Steeples Project will welcome the Christmas season with a new celebration.
With the help of a local theater company, a New York City-bound church choir and an established caterer, the organization will offer its initial St. Nicholas Feast at The Grand Halle, 306 Broad St. in the Cambria City section of Johnstown.
The feast is part of a two-week series of events.
Dubbed Wintergarden, the celebration begins with the St. Nicholas Feast at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 6 and 7. The dinners will feature the Band of Brothers theater company telling the story of the real-life St. Nicholas, while patrons will enjoy a traditional German holiday meal catered by Asiago’s.
Adding to each evening’s entertainment will be the choir of St. Paul United Church of Christ in Somerset, which will perform in February at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
“I’m hoping that Wintergarden grows to become the anticipated holiday event in the area,” said Barbara Zaborowski, a Steeples Project board member.
“We will have a variety of events and displays during the celebration.”
During each feast, Bryan Lohr will direct the 18-voice choir from St Paul’s in authentic carols and songs.
“It will add an old-world flavor to the Nicholas drama,” said Kim Rauch, music director for The Grand Halle and architect of the St. Nicholas Feast.
The medieval and renaissance selections will include pieces by Ravenscroft and Warlock, as well as the Spanish carol “Riu, Riu, Chiu.”
“The choir will lead the audience in a familiar carol sing-along to close the program," Rauch said.
The German-flavored event will correspond with the aesthetics of the Gothic Grand Halle, formerly Immaculate Conception, a Roman Catholic church built by German immigrants in 1907-08.
Zaborowski said Wintergarden is intended to capture the magic of an ethnic holiday with decorated trees, a gingerbread village, vintage Christmas toys and a Giving Gallery holiday market.
Organizers from Johnstown’s Steeples Project are seeking entries to their gingerbread house contest as part of the inaugural Wintergarden celebration.
“It’s not too late for everyone to get involved,” Zaborowski said.
“We invite people to bake a gingerbread house, have your school make decorations and come and join us at the scheduled events.”
The deadline for gingerbread house entries is Dec. 1 and should be delivered to The Grand Halle between noon and 4 p.m. Dec. 2.
There are three categories: children’s division, up to age 17, adult division and commercial division, including professional bakers.
Entries will be judged on originality with additional points given if the gingerbread house is a structure in Cambria County. More points will be awarded if the structure is in Cambria City.
Entries will be judged Dec. 7.
The event will feature nearly 30 prelit Christmas trees, many of which will be decorated by area high school students.
To date, five schools and Johnstown Area Heritage Association will decorate trees in select ethnic themes.
They are Portage Area, Asian; Westmont Hilltop, undetermined but the ornaments will be ceramic; Forest Hills, China; Richland, Ukrainian and Italian; Bishop McCort Catholic, French; and JAHA will offer two trees with German decorations from the Christmas display at the historic Wagner-Ritter House in 2012.
“The ornaments are being handmade by area students,” Zaborowski said.
More information on Wintergarden can be found at www.wintergarden2013.org.
Tickets for the St. Nicholas Feast are $34.95 per person and advanced reservations are required by Wednesday.
Reservations can be made online at www.steeplesproject.org or mail-order forms can be downloaded and mailed to: The Nicholas Feast, 913 Lina St., Johnstown, Pa. 15902.
The Giving Gallery will be open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 7 and 8 and will feature a group of nonprofit organizations and vendors selling a variety of handmade items, works of art, ethnic and Old World pieces.
Admission is $5 at the door.
A special Songworks acoustic dinner holiday program will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Dec. 12 featuring Walt Churchey and Jackie Kopko. The meal will be provided by Ace’s Catering.
Admission is $12 at the door and no reservations are necessary.
The public is invited to view all the displays from 6 to 9 p.m. Dec. 9-11.
“There is a $5 admission fee for adults because this is a fundraiser for the Steeples Project,” Zaborowski said.
Children younger than age 17 will be admitted free.
“We’re very excited about the initial response to Wintergarden,” Zaborowski said.
“We have schools participating, gingerbread houses being created by families and businesses, and we have great events scheduled, which is not bad for our first year.”
The celebration ends Dec. 15.
Information: 536-7986 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go ...
What: The Nicholas Feast.
When: 6:30 p.m. Dec. 6 and 7.
Where: The Grand Halle, 306 Broad St. in the Cambria City section of Johns-town.
Cost: $34.95 a person.
Reservation deadline: Wednesday.
Reservations and ticket purchases online: www.steeplesproject.org.
Tom Lavis covers Features for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter.com/Tom LavisTD.