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Putting everything into perspective
Gainesville Christmas Festival

By Jeffry Boatright

Angels can be seen on high as they fly overhead during the Gainesville Christmas Festival at Westside Baptist Church.

                 -SVT Photo by Jeffry Boatright

Opportunities are certainly abounding to indulge in the cheer of Christmas as we rapidly peel away the days of December from the 2016 calendar. The anxiety of shopping, demand of gatherings and temptation of one more cookie might seem a bit overwhelming, but the Gainesville Christmas Festival, which is now in full swing, clearly puts everything back into perspective. It is a phenomenal production that reiterates just how significant the cherished celebration is and that regardless how chaotic we allow our holiday agenda to become, the true meaning of Christmas is something much greater than our own frenzied schedule.

The Gainesville Christmas Festival, which debuted in 2006, is a production of Westside Baptist Church in Gainesville. The three-act production offers Broadway-style appeal in presenting our favorite secular holiday characters and music, but the real reason we celebrate Christmas is skillfully conveyed by the cast and crew.

While one might ask what the festival offers that is so special, the better question would be, what doesn’t the festival offer? There is absolutely everything to enjoy. A horse-drawn sleigh, Santa Claus, Frosty, talented dancers, an amazing orchestra, phenomenal singers, snow, flying angels, and a multitude of live animals and much more bring enthusiasm and emotion to the audience.

The third act, which is very intense, offers a biblical depiction of the life of Christ. It is fitting that the entire life of Jesus is portrayed because, as Senior Pastor David Chauncey communicated, the empty tomb is what makes the miracle birth of the Savior so important.

The production, which is completely presented inside the nearly 750 seat sanctuary, is simply astonishing. The fact that all participants, however, are active members of Westside Baptist Church is incredible within itself. Needless to say, much work goes into the production each year with planning beginning in February and rehearsals in July. In order to put on such a show, it requires the commitment of nearly 350 people to fulfill the roles of cast and crew members.

Camels, along with other animals such as donkeys, llamas, horses and more are welcomed into the sanctuary during the Gainesville Christmas Festival at Westwood Baptist. - SVT Photo by Jeffry Boatright

One of the cast members, who dances, sings, and plays a number of roles in the festival, is Suwannee County native Ashley Poole. Poole, who moved to Gainesville to attend college, became involved in Westside Baptist Church and chose to remain in the community and worship at the church.

Suwannee County Native Ashley Poole is performing in multiple roles for this year’s Gainesville Christmas Festival at Westside Baptist Church, which is located on West Newberry Road in Gainesville.

                      -SVT Photo by Jeffry Boatright

Poole acknowledges that being a part of the Gainesville Christmas Festival is incredible. “It is a fun way of bringing people closer to Jesus by getting to participate in activities I love,” she stated. “I never knew dance could be a form of worship until experiencing genuine praise to God during the middle of one performance,” the talented performer added.

According to Poole, the festival is a unique way for Westside Baptist Church to reach out to surrounding communities and share the gospel with others. While Poole finds genuine joy in her roles for the Christmas festival, she undoubtedly finds equal joy in serving Christ throughout the year.

“Since I joined Westside Baptist Church as a college student, my life has been forever changed,” she explained. “From learning bible lessons on Sunday mornings that are taught on a college level, to experiencing true worship in the sanctuary where it seems that it’s just God and me having a heartfelt conversation, Westside Baptist Church has taught me to be confident in my belief in Christ and how to share God’s love with people wherever I go.”

In this Broadway-style production, everyone loves Frosty the Snowman. -SVT Photo by Jeffry Boatright

Poole elaborated that she has learned how to grow into a leader by doing things she never thought she could. She explained that things such as helping lead worship by singing in the choir and playing the piano, teaching a Sunday school class and even leading a mission trip to Peru have enabled her to grow as a leader.   “Westside Baptist Church is a shining example of teaching truth and growing disciples,” she said. According to Poole, it is a pleasure to be a part of a community that practices its motto, “Where friends become family.”

The Westside Baptist Church family will take the stage again this weekend. Poole, along with her fellow cast members, can be seen during their final performances of the year, which will take place Dec. 9-11. The evening shows begin at 6:15 p.m., each day and afternoon performances at 1:45 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. Tickets can be purchased on line at Advanced purchase of tickets is critical because shows are usually sold out prior to the performance.

The timeless editorial, “Yes Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus,” alluded to how dreary the world might be if there were no Santa Claus. The Gainesville Christmas Festival, however, reveals to those fortunate enough to experience it just how hopeless the world would be if there were no Christ and we are ultimately reminded that there is something far greater than you, me or even Santa Claus.

Act Three of the Gainesville Christmas Festival tells the complete story of Jesus, including the crucifixion and resurrection. -SVT Photo by Jeffry Boatright

A one horse open sleigh carries shoppers through the set’s big city. -SVT Photo by Jeffry Boatright