The Sernecky brothers — Kyle and Jordan — take a break while viewing entries in Stettler’s second annual gingerbread-house contest at the Legion. The festive event sets the stage for next week’s Festival of Lights.

Stettler Festival of Lights lifeline for local hospital

If the early blast of winter wasn’t enough, more Christmas inspiration is on the way in Stettler.

If the early blast of winter wasn’t enough, more Christmas inspiration is on the way in Stettler.

Stettler-area residents and visitors braved a raging snowstorm Saturday to attend the second annual gingerbread house-contest at the Legion. The seasonal event is a warmup of sorts for the 16th annual Festival of Lights, the Stettler hospital fundraiser that runs next week from Tuesday through Saturday (Nov. 26 to Nov. 30).

All of the events are at the Stettler community hall, beginning with the Owen Blake Tribute Breakfast on Tuesday from 7 to 9 a.m.

Including a four-day Christmas market, which is set for noon to 5 p.m. daily from Tuesday through Friday, and the anchor dinner, dance and auction on Saturday night, the week of festive fundraising is a lifeline for the hospital.

As always, the target is $100,000 toward the purchase of hospital equipment, said festival chair Sue Peterson.

“That’s what we aim for, but we always have to look at what’s going on in the community and in the province,” she said. “And of course, this year, with so much of Alberta being hit by flooding and storms, and people helping to rush them as they should, we’re not sure what will happen (locally).

“Regardless, we hold the event because we like doing it, and whatever we can raise will go to the hospital.”

Peterson became the chair last year, but she’s been involved with the festival for 15 years, and her family roots are tied to hospital care.

“Personally, it’s something that I grew up with,” Peterson said. “My father was a hospital administrator in northern Ontario, where I grew up, so I knew at a young age that it was very difficult to supply the hospital with what was needed.

“When we moved out west, and I heard about the Festival of Lights, then I decided to join. Over the 15 years that we’ve been working (on this project), we’ve been able to provide the hospital with a number of things — birthing beds, colonoscopy equipment — a variety of things for the hospital that were needed.

“When I say we, I don’t just mean the committee members, but the people of Stettler, because without the people of Stettler, of course, this wouldn’t happen.”

The Festival of Lights enters a new era this year with a substantial turnover at the organizational level, Peterson said.

“Some of the people that had been involved for about 14 years stepped back last year. They wanted to be involved in other community events, and that’s totally understandable, so we have a fairly new committee as of last year, and they are keen.

“We’re very excited by the market, because it includes people of the community who are able to show off their artistic talents, so we have potters and quilters and all kinds of wonderful things that people can make and offer.”

The weeklong package includes a few surprises.

“We have a new event this year — Christmas spirits — on the Wednesday evening, which will feature a pairing of seasonal drinks and appetizers, as well as entertainment by the Jazz Guys,” Peterson said.

“Seniors’ tea on Wednesday afternoon is a very popular event. The school children come and sing — and they are just darlings.

“Friday afternoon is our children’s day, with Santa Claus in attendance.”

Photos with Santa and horse-drawn sleigh rides are also part of the lineup Friday afternoon.

Bids close at 5 p.m. Friday on the silent-auction items displayed at the hall during the week.

“So if you were the highest bidder on a wreath, for example, we would be calling you that night,” Peterson said.

“And hopefully you can come to the hall and pick it up, because that is Moonlight Madness night and people are downtown shopping.

“Then we would completely re-tweak the hall for Saturday’s gala, which concludes our week of festivities.”

A major live auction is part of the gala, with donations from businesses and others.

The festival is an unofficial kickoff for the Christmas season in the Stettler region.

“It’s really the weather that gets people in the mood for Christmas,” Peterson said with a laugh.

The Sounds of the Season concert is scheduled for Thursday, from 7 to 9 p.m., during the festival week.

Tickets for all ticketed events can be purchased at WISH Kitchen & Gift on Stettler’s main street.

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