For the last 2 years the Christmas Lantern Festival in LS11 has looked very different to how it was prior to the Covid Pandemic.
We have spent the last 2 years taking the festival out on to the streets of Beeston and Holbeck on our open top bus but, after much discussion, the core team decided it would be good to once again centre the celebration in its original home in Cross Flatt Park.
However, the Covid Pandemic had left its mark and we decided that the benefit of taking the Lantern Festival into various parts of the community as we had done over the last 2 years was significant – indeed the locations around LS11 we used during Covid were really keen to be part of the event again this year.
So, eventually we decided upon 3 local gatherings – at St Luke’s Church, Rowland Rd Working Men’s Club and St Mary Church – which would involve music, stable animals, light refreshments, craft, interactive drama and, of course, lots of lights. These gatherings then processed to Cross Flatts Park (animals and all) where the community came together. The journeys were representative of the journeys taken on the very first Christmas – Mary and Joseph and a donkey walking from St Mary’s; the shepherds and goats walking from St Luke’s; and finally, the Wise Men and alpacas (camels are really, really expensive!!) from Rowland Rd WMC. Cross Flatts Park was transformed for one evening into a Bethlehem of sorts! Lanterns lined the paths, lights strung up in trees and the gazebos and fences.
Hot food was served (‘Bethlehem’ means ‘House of Bread’) with hot dogs and shawarmas followed by mince pies and yule log. Children (and some adults) dressed up to have photos taken in a stable scene with the animals. There was further interactive drama, craft and a performance from the St Luke’s Primary School choir. We celebrated some local unsung heroes and then finally, everyone gathered for some carols led by the Salvation Army Band.
It was freezing – literally, with temperatures dropping to -3 degrees! However, this didn’t put people off with at least 60-100 people coming to each initial gathering and several hundred gathering in the park. 250 children went home very happy with the gift we were able to give them at the end.
Editor of South Leeds Life, Jeremy Morton, commented on the evening that “the Lantern Festival is a firm fixture in the life of the community”. Another attendee told fed back that, “As someone of no faith, the event felt so inclusive and such a brilliant way to bring the community together to celebrate.”
One of the volunteers, who had heard about the event on social media and got in touch to offer his help, sent the following message following the event:
“Tonight was an excellent night and I met some of the most genuinely nice people I have ever met. Thank you for letting me help out. Please save my number and, as long I as I can get away from work, I’m happy to help out with any community event. Tonight reminded me how rewarding helping at things like your event are and in a dark world it’s very good to be reminded that there are still a lot of genuinely nice people in the world.”
This, for me, as much as the sheer number of people all coming and having a great time, makes all the hard work worth it – he told me a longer back story which I can’t share, but it’s the impact community events like this can have on individuals in ways we don’t always expect that makes them so important in the life of communities like ours.
Overall, therefore, the event was a huge success and would not have been possible were it not for your generous support – we are very grateful and would like to say a big thank you on behalf of our core team, volunteers and everyone in the community who took part.
We are now in the process of evaluating and assessing what the Christmas Lantern Festival in 2024 might look like. I’m excited at the prospect of developing it further to make more of an impact next year in what will be the 10th Anniversary year.
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