Festive, frugal fun! Q&A with the Gift of Christmas

(W)rapping up Christmas!

The Gift of Christmas is a holiday production by Bethal Pentecostal Church (in Nepean) that is now entering its 12th year. The FREE performances — spread over two weekends — feature 20 different musical acts. It all culminates in the “Singing Christmas Tree” finale, Bethal’s 50-voice choir housed in a four-storey Christmas tree that is decorated with more than 3,500 lights which are musically choreographed.  LTOttawa spoke with Bethal’s outreach director, John Counsell, to find out more out the Gift of Christmas, which has performances from Dec.3-5 and 10-12. (Check out the matinee show TODAY at 2 p.m.)

By the sounds of it, the Gift of Christmas is quite the production; your website describes it as “a truly breathtaking visual and acoustic experience.” What makes it different than other holiday productions?

What sets it apart are the reunions.  Every show we fly the loved one(s) of one unsuspecting individual or family that is in the audience and surprise them.  We’ve done it over 70 times, from all over the world.  There’s usually not a dry eye in the house as we tell the story of why people have been separated for so long.
How much work goes into the production each year? When do you start practising?

Some years we’ve started rehearsing as early as June.  Planning usually starts in January.  It’s really an all year thing

What do you think is the most special part of the performance?

The reunions, and driving home the truth that having the Spirit of Christ in your life is even better than having the Spirit of Christmas, I think we accomplish that in a very warm, friendly non-preachy way.

The “Singing Christmas Tree” choir seems to be the highlight of the performance. What’s the reaction like in the audience?

Oh people just boo them like crazy until they get off the stage . . . Extra security has to be brought in to protect them. Actually, the audience lights up as much as the tree does!  

Check out a rehearsal clip HERE

Would you call Ottawans festive?

Totally!  I think we do up Christmas better than any city in the world

The Gift of Christmas also features an onstage reunion each session, as you mentioned earlier.  How did that tradition begin?

Not sure what the origins were, but it has become an inseparable part of the experience.  The production has always been called: “The Gift of Christmas” although many refer to it as “the Singing Christmas Tree.”  A gift means it’s our delight and pleasure to do this and not charge.  The reunions just  seemed like a wonderful tangible thing we could do to make our gift to the community that much more special.

Can you give us any hints about the reunions coming up this year?

Yes!  This years reunions are going to be some of the most original we’ve ever done, including some live video conferencing and we’ll be actually flying an audience  member to the other side of the world for the  first time instead of bringing someone home.  As usual the stories are the best, but we keep things top secret for maximum surprise impact!

Since the program is entering its 12th year, can you tell me a little bit about its history and how
things have changed over the years?

The biggest change this year is that we have a new senior pastor at Bethel and a  new director for the production for the first time in it’s history.  It’s absolutely inspiring to see hundreds of volunteers pour their life into it so faithfully year after year.
What’s your personal favourite holiday tradition in Ottawa?

Mine?   Putting up my feet with a Hot Chocolate after the Tree is finally done and recuperating . . .  It’s a TON of work!!!

Although the Gift of Christmas is free event, donations are welcome for the Salvation Army and Samaritan’s Purse.

What are YOU doing in Ottawa to get into the holiday spirit? Share your thoughts with us!