Simple Living 101: Event Organizers


3: Event *Organizers 41


3 – Event Organizers

How to Organize an Alternative Christmas Community Festival

By Virginia E. Stevens and Ann Latham


An Alternative Christmas Festival is a concrete, exciting way to offer ideas and support for those who want to have more meaningful Christmas celebrations. It is also a positive way to introduce the need for change to people unaware of the problems connected with the way we celebrate Christmas. The size and scope of the festival depends on the resources of commitment and talent available in the local community. It is always best to have an event which is challenging but not overwhelming so there is a base on which to build the following year.

What follows is a “how-to” that is both general and specific. We offer what we have learned from several years of organizing a community festival, first giving suggestions and then commenting on our particular experience. Since our festival is always in process, we are including some of the questions and new approaches we hope to develop for future festivals. We hope that this will provide the flexibility you need to develop a festival coherent with the resources and the needs of your own community, but with enough specifics to get started.


It is essential to have at least two or three very committed persons to initiate and carry the festival. These people might be from a hunger or lifestyle group in the community, a denomination or a local congregation. If from a community group, it is important to make early contact with local churches and denominational agencies to, at minimum, inform them of your concern and aspirations and, at best, gain their active support. In our case, two of us from a local ecumenical hunger group decided we wanted to have a festival. One took the idea to the Baptist Young Women’s group in her church. That group became the core to which other interested persons were added.

If the festival is sponsored by a denomination or congregation, care must be taken to broaden the base to other denominations. If the core group is solely congregational or denominational, especially when either time is short or population density high, focusing on a more limited audience may be appropriate for the first year. However, the richness of an ecumenical event cannot be overemphasized. Each tradition has something unique which enriches the rest of us, so we are always very deliberate in our efforts to get denominations and interested organizations to be a part of the exhibits and programs (e.g., Episcopal Players do a skit; the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate, which is ecumenical, sets up an exhibit, etc.).

In any case, developing both a core group and an ecumenical base is essential. Contact a cross-section of denominational agencies that have materials supporting the alternatives idea. These contacts are useful sources of information and can be used as “stamps of approval” when you talk to members of specific denominations. These agencies may also know of persons in your area who have similar interests. For instance, local members of Bread for the World or Alternatives are likely supporters. Inviting groups that have similar interests to those of the festival will increase your base. A couple of examples are Peace Links and local food cooperatives.

After the organizers have been identified, two sessions together may be necessary. The first is to develop a clear understanding of the purpose and the methods of the festival. The video “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” can be used as a focus. Talking through the whys and wherefores is essential to minimize the possibility of being at cross-purposes later. However remember that both organizers and visitors will be at different places in their pilgrimages toward a meaningful Christmas, so eclecticism is normal and valuable. For example, making, instead of buying, tree ornaments is alternative enough for some, while others may reject using a Christmas tree at all. Allow for diversity but keep direction clearly before participants by encouraging each to ask regularly, “How does what I plan to do enhance or detract from Christmas as Jesus’ birthday?”

The second session is to solicit volunteers for specific commitments – such as setting up various exhibits, helping with publicity, physical arrangements, food, etc. Shortly before the event, write a letter to all participants giving clear instructions on details, e.g., when and where they are to set up. You may find it helpful to make follow-up telephone calls just to make sure everything will be in place on the day of the festival. Of course, different committees can meet separately or be in touch by telephone or email, depending on their tasks. After a few years of operation, we have discovered we can depend on one general planning meeting, general mailings, smaller topic-specific meetings and the telephone to organize.

We repeat: It is extremely important for you to assess the local resources available, both human and material, and build your festival design around these. Encourage people to determine how their skills can be used to forward the general goal of an alternative Christmas. For example, because there is a commercial artist in our group, banners and posters are an important part of our overall design. At the planning meeting of our last festival, a couple of our local university librarians volunteered to be responsible for the tree-trimming exhibit. What a wonderful job they did! They helped children recycle library materials and make them into delightful Christmas ornaments. A tree, decorated with these handmade ornaments, was set up in the library as an exhibit on the alternative Christmas theme. Use local resources! Give people the freedom to discover how they can contribute. You will be amazed at what happens.


Ideally, there should be a Festival Coordinator with chairpersons for the following committees:1) exhibits, 2) program, 3) food, 4) physical arrangements, 5) publicity and 6) finance. In fact, we never have had six chairpersons.


Exhibits are the heart of the festival. This is where visitors (and organizers) get ideas and materials for alternative ways to deal with the status quo. In order to maintain our focus, we think it extremely important not to sell anything. Even selling “self-help” crafts makes it too easy to get involved in buying & selling rather than evaluating and planning.

Catalogs and order forms may be available for crafts and books, but nothing more. Enough interest may be generated to support special sales at other times. In our case, two groups now sponsor sales – one during the summer and the other right after the festival.

[Editor’s note: While we appreciate the authors’ perspective on this matter, we note that other community festival organizers have been successful in selling self-help crafts from the developing, non-industrial world. We recommend having a self-help craft sales exhibit and Alternatives resource display and sale.]

The central display area is the hub from which all other exhibits radiate. This exhibit is essential and must be organized by someone with a clear understanding of the principles of alternative celebrations.

The rest of the exhibits should not be dependent on one another. Working with independent modules is important because the whole does not suffer if one or two exhibits do not come together. These exhibits should be specific examples of the general themes presented in the central display area. For instance, the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate has an exhibit which gives substance to the “Give Your Skills” theme.

The Exhibits Chairperson should be generally familiar with resources and agencies, both local and national, whose work would serve to flesh out the alternatives theme. The chairperson should find and get well acquainted with these resources long before the festival, particularly if this person is new to lifestyle/economic justice issues and agencies. The Exhibits Chairperson (or another interested person if committees have not been formed) should drop ideas, addresses, materials, etc., for potential exhibits into folders. Promising materials should be ordered as they are discovered. These will serve as bases for developing exhibits.

Specific exhibits to be included in the festival can be decided by two methods. 1) Find local advocates with specific concerns and ask them to set up exhibits. If necessary, call the national offices of these organizations and ask for local chapter contacts or members. 2) Find volunteers who are willing to adopt a relevant idea or agency, learn about it and set up the exhibit. We have used both methods. For instance, the local Bread for the World chapter was asked to set up and staff that exhibit. Using the second method, we gave the volunteer for our book exhibit several selected book lists, copies of good books collected from among ourselves, and material on choosing good books for children. She visited libraries, collected more books, wrote a one-page guide for a handout and had a wonderful exhibit. Our exhibits are organized by a wide variety of people – old hands and novices – but normally, everyone does a fantastic job. Even when a few have failed in their efforts, the festival has been successful. Suggestions for other exhibits, as well as detailed information on the central exhibit, are included below.

The Exhibits Chairperson should check with exhibitors periodically to make sure they are really getting ready. Pamphlets, audiovisuals, etc., need to be ordered well in advance of the festival. Encourage exhibitors to order videos, slides, posters, etc., for a more festive atmosphere. Exhibitors should make a list of their equipment needs – tables, audiovisual equipment, extension cords, etc. – at least three weeks before the festival. These lists should be compiled by the Exhibits Chairperson and given to the Physical Arrangements Chairperson no less than two weeks before the event.

The Central Exhibit

This exhibit should be organized as an “outline” because this is where the “steps” to an alternative Christmas are found. Traffic patterns, spatial and color arrangement of posters, and supporting materials should be organized to create an outline of order and unity. To achieve this we use one color combination for the general steps (A, B, C, D, E), another for the specific steps (1, 2, 3, 4 under E), and a third for the subdivisions (a, b, c under E-1 and a, b under E-3). Tables beneath the posters hold supporting materials: samples, handouts (noted as “HO” in the text), pointer cards to related exhibits, or programs and suggestion cards.

Banners and signs that we have used are listed below. We have discovered or developed so many materials that a description of all of them would take too much space, so only a few are noted. Order from Alternatives materials that do not have a source listed here or in the resource list at the end.


A. “Whose Birthday Is It, Anyway?” This huge banner is hung on the outside of the building by the entrance.

B. “Happy Birthday, Jesus!” This large banner greets people after they enter. Below it is a table decorated with greens, a creche and a large birthday cake. At the end of the day everyone meets in the common area to sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus. The cake is divided among the children.


Only a few handouts – HO – are listed. NUMBERs in ( ) are footnotes, referring to resources in the bibliography at the end of this resource, pp. 50-51.

A. Analyze your Christmas. Several handouts available include “Christmas Budget Worksheet” (p. 33) duplicated from Alternatives’ “Guidelines for Alternative Giving” and some exercises from the excellent book, “Unplug the Christmas Machine” (1).

B. Plan now. “Guidelines for Alternative Giving” (HO). There is a pointer card to the Alternatives Christmas Workshop.

C. Rediscover old or develop new traditions. See Chapter 2, “Advent, Christmas and Epiphany” in Alternatives’ “To Celebrate: Reshaping Holidays & Rites of Passage.” Pointer cards to the several exhibits on traditions (see below).

D. Celebrate Advent and Epiphany. Pointer to these exhibits.

E. Remember whose birthday it is! The Story of Jason asks and answers “Whose Birthday Is It, Anyway?” (2). (HO)

1. GIVE TO THOSE HE CAME TO SERVE. We include materials and ideas from individuals, families, churches and denominations. Each year we try to highlight the efforts of some local churches to stimulate thinking and action among their members. We have produced our own alternative gift-giving guide (HO) which features ads of local agencies needing the gifts of time, money, skills and citizenship. A pointer card directs participants to the “Least of These” exhibit, described below.

a. GIVE TIME – VOLUNTEER, VISIT, RECYCLE. Information is available on different local agencies needing assistance.

b. DIVERT DOLLARS. Make available: Alternative Giving Christmas cards (HO, p. 34), flyers describing Church World Service kits (3) (HO), and samples of gifts symbolic of diverted dollars. Display samples of Christmas kits for local prisoners. “A Birthday Gift for Jesus” is a concise list of worthwhile national and international organizations (4) (HO). A pointer card directs visitors to the Heifer Project display or other ecumenical possibilities for diverted dollars.

c. GIVE SKILLS. Information on local volunteer needs for specific skills is given. A pointer sign refers visitors to the Habitat for Humanity display (or other group needing massive volunteer support).

d. GIVE YOUR CITIZENSHIP. Visitors are referred to the Bread for the World exhibit by a pointer sign.

2. GIVE YOURSELF. Here are examples and suggestion cards of ways to give oneself. These include various kinds of coupons of time, services and skills, as well as samples of gifts of refurbishing, sewing, cooking, building, planting, etc. Pointer card refers guests to the movie, “The Gift that Lasts a Lifetime,” (5) and the “Crafts Exhibits.” HINT: Ideas for this part of the exhibit may be solicited from the group as a whole because most people have given or have been given something very special. Take care to offer samples which will stimulate visitors to their own ideas, not lead them to despair because they cannot replicate what is on display. Have a suggestion card prominently displayed encouraging participants to think of specific ways they can offer themselves to specific person(s). We refer to the “Gift of Presence” often here. We show a sample chart with the names of persons to whom gifts will be given, something special about each person is placed on the chart, and then ideas for something only the giver can do for that person (6).

3. BUY WITH CONSCIENCE. Guests are referred by pointer signs to exhibits of “Books” and “Self-Help Crafts.” Samples should be available to generate interest.

a. GIVE GIFTS THAT GIVE TWICE. See “Double Your Gift of Love” in “To Celebrate: Reshaping Holidays & Rites of Passage,” p. 53, or “Treasury of Celebrations,” p. 43.

b. ASK QUESTIONS. A list from Alternatives’ various “Guidelines for Alternative Giving” is posted.

4. THINK ABOUT THE CHILDREN. Suggestion cards are coupled with tangible ideas. For instance, by the sign, “Plan a family activity or two after Christmas day,” there is a jigsaw puzzle box as a possibility. By the sign stating, “Use simple recipes so the children can participate,” is a sample recipe and its result. Visitors are also directed to the “Children’s Gifts” exhibit. Many good ideas are in “Simplify & Celebrate: Embracing the Soul of Christmas” & “Simple Christmas” (7).

Other Exhibits

The remaining exhibits refer to one or more of the above “steps.” There are many other national organizations which could fit into the theme. We choose those in which local people are already interested. With the exception of those with craft activities, they can be set up and staffed by two people. It is helpful, however, to have enough staff to provide for two shifts so everyone can have a break and see the other exhibits.

Now for one of the dilemmas. We found in our early years that providing something for children to do in the exhibits helped the parents relax and stay long enough to get involved. For instance, if the children were busy making Jesse tree ornaments in the Advent exhibit, parents could really browse over materials and samples and ask questions. As the number of visitors and the number of children who are familiar with our annual festival increases, we have had to make sure that our craft exhibits for children are fully staffed.

The following are some exhibit possibilities:

1. Bread for the World (8)

2. Heifer Project (9)

3. Habitat for Humanity (10)

4. Self-Help Crafts: There are many of these groups – local, national and international (11-15). Some have interesting audiovisuals.

5. Alternative Foods: A natural foods store or food co-op might be interested in setting this up. We have volunteers who develop two themes: food that is good for the consumer (health issue) and food that is good for the producers and the environment (economic and social issues). Along with samples and handouts, we have a recipe sharing box.

6. Crafts for Children and Adults: This is a hands-on exhibit. Craft materials should be simple: clay, recycled wax, and other materials that are natural and readily available. We usually offer two to four crafts. See “Joy to the World: Christmas celebrations, customs and crafts from many lands for use in church, school & home” by Wezeman & Fournier (7).

7. Live Christmas Tree: We place a tree in the common area and decorate it with simple handmade ornaments. Materials are available – and people to help – for making ornaments. This is another favorite activity for children.

8. Books: Staffers set up small chairs in one corner of the common area and read stories to children about alternative lifestyles, with special emphasis on Christmas. This is always very popular! Books for children and adults on a variety of subjects are on display. Order forms for Alternatives’ many titles and handouts on selecting children’s books are available.

9. Celebrating Advent: Many different examples of Advent materials are available. Organizers make up sample Advent wreaths, calendars, a Jesse tree with instructions (16), Chrismons, etc. They also develop handouts for family and congregational Advent activities. Along with the Alternative Christmas packets, there are denominational materials on display.

10. Celebrating Epiphany: This exhibit has taken some developing, because this season is only “lightly” observed in many traditions and materials. Even the more liturgical denominations do not include many activities. However, conscientious organizers, given enough time, will ferret out and create new materials, such as Alternatives’ Epiphany Celebration (p. 65).

11. Children’s Gifts: Using the many children’s gift guides currently available (17-20), exhibitors have endless possibilities. You may purchase a few samples, but use your ingenuity to adapt ideas from toy catalogs to make gifts. For instance, one can make a wonderful costume wardrobe with an old suitcase, feathers, jewelry, clothes from a flea market, or an artist’s kit with individually bought paints, pens, a homemade apron, etc.

12. Game Room: Near the children’s gift exhibit, we staff a room with a couple of people (perhaps a few teens) who know how to play some of the alternative games on display. In this way, guests can actually play the games. See “New Games for the Whole Family” and “Everyone Wins!” on p. 63.

13. Gifts for Older People: With an aging population – many of whom will spend time in retirement, rest or nursing homes – this new exhibit at our festival draws a lot of attention. Social workers and activity directors in these places, as well as residents, are excellent sources of information and samples.

14. Traditions: This exhibit is really 4-in-1.

a. CHRISTMAS PAST: We decorate the exhibit area in simple old-fashioned ways and include pictures and text describing how specific customs have developed (tree, gifts, creche, etc.). Tape cassette players are set up so individuals can listen to a tape created by a local radio station in which older people were interviewed (edited, of course) with an old mountain Christmas tune to tie it together. A “crazy quilt” of photos of older people and stories of their Christmas memories is another attention getter. Activity directors in rest homes are eager for residents to contribute to the festival. A “sharing” sheet encourages visitors to share the sounds, sights, smells and gifts of the past which provoke good memories.

b. CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS HERE AND ABROAD: Paintings and samples of Christmas traditions from this country and others, with explanations of their histories, form the basis of this exhibit. We find that international guests, refugees or naturalized Americans are eager to share customs of their native countries. We are overjoyed with what they produce with a single piece of poster board when asked to create a visual and verbal explanation of their customs. Look for the best customs. Do not assume that all customs, here or abroad, are healthy. Internationals are often willing to share a craft activity. This highlights the gifts of other cultures and gives positive exposure to students and refugees. “Nativity” video is a wonderful addition to this exhibit (5).

c. ESTABLISHING NEW TRADITIONS: Along with a display of a few stories that tells how others have reclaimed the true meaning of Christmas, we provide a tree branch and large paper ornaments. Guests are encouraged to write their special traditions on one of the ornaments and hang it on the branch.

d. DEALING WITH SANTA CLAUS: Although this can be part of the Christmas Past exhibit, it might also be developed as a separate exhibit. We have a display which explains the St. Nicholas tradition to Santa Claus, his Madison Avenue counterpart. Materials on Santa from Alternatives (p. 61), several performances of Alternatives’ “St. Nicholas Puppet Play” (p. 65) during the day, and a special letter to parents give ideas for alternatives to Santa Claus.

15. Alternative cards, wrappings and ornaments: Samples of unique, yet simple, cards and wrappings are on display here. We have a display of UNICEF and other cards which benefit advocacy groups such as Amnesty International and Association of Retarded Citizens.

16. “Peace on Earth”: Many materials have been produced on peacemaking, conflict resolution and similar subjects in the last few years. Alternatives has several (21). Check also with denominational peace, justice and hunger programs for resources. We find that the materials produced by the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program cover all aspects of peacemaking – individual to God, families, congregations, community, world and environment (22). Making peace cranes was a favorite activity at the festival. As a part of decorating, use some of the multitude of Scripture verses about peace. You might involve participants in this activity by asking them to illustrate peace verses with crayons or colored pens to fill one wall of the area.

17. “Least of These”: Local agencies working with marginalized people (elderly, mentally or physically handicapped, homeless, prisoners, etc.) are invited to offer visitors specific ways to give to the “least of these.” We give each a piece of poster board with instructions about format. We provide the display area which unifies and identifies the theme. To help participants realize that marginalized people also have gifts, a puppet show, written and performed by staff workers at a school for handicapped children, includes a handicapped puppet “child” who teaches the children how to “sign” a Christmas song, “Everyone Has Something to Give,” a song written especially for the program.

18. Coupon-making: Sensitive staff, pointing out that the gift coupon is a promise, can help children think through what they are really willing to give. Children will enjoy using the materials provided to make their own coupons.

19. Other exhibits can be devoted to: (26)

a. Christmas and families in special situations (single parent, blended families, unemployed, etc.)

b. Coping (stress, depression, etc.)

c. Commercialism.


This committee will need to discover what local resources are available. We make our printed schedule available at the city’s welcome area. It is also published in the local newspaper before the festival day. Our schedule includes the special events and the audiovisuals listed above which are related to specific exhibits and held throughout the day.

We also have several films/videos shown on a rotating schedule all during the day, such as “Break Forth into Joy! Beyond a Consumer Lifestyle” and “Affluenza” (5, 24, 25). If you do not offer a workshop, you will probably want to include Alternatives’ video “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” You can save on rental fees if you borrow films or videos like “The Giving Tree” through your state library system, denominational resource center or Church World Service in Elkhart, Indiana (CWS). Call for current listing of CWS media resources, 219/264-3102.

Other program ideas follow. We have used these as an end-of-the-day “Happy Birthday, Jesus!” party. Once again, remember to look around your community – churches, libraries, community musical groups – for artists who would be willing to share their talents.

1. Music: Our guests enjoy recorded music performances by local groups and group singing.

2. Skits, puppets or storytelling: “The Shoemaker’s Dream,” “Whose Birthday Is It, Anyway?” (“The Story of Jason”), “The Land of Sharing” and the St. Nicholas story (all from Alternatives, p. 65) can be produced in a variety of ways. There are, of course, many other stories which lend themselves to the same kind of adaptation.

3. Workshops: There could be one longer workshop or one or more mini-workshops on special topics, such as “Christmas with Children” (with discussion on questions like what to do when grandparents go overboard with gifts) and “How to Introduce the Alternatives Idea in Your Congregation.” See Alternatives’ Discussion Guides, p. 61.

4. “Happy Birthday, Jesus!” cake is the final event of the day.


Since the festival is an all-day affair, we serve a meal so that people can stay for as long as they wish.

We keep the menu simple. Using the same recipe, volunteers make soup in their homes and bring the finished product to the festival for reheating. Along with the soup, we serve cheese, bread, apple slices and a drink. Diners pay a very modest fee for the meal, and since the cooks donate their soup, the small fee more than covers costs. Leftovers are auctioned off among the volunteers and taken to the local rescue mission. Many people tell us that sharing a meal in the alternatives environment adds a special warmth to the day.

The Food Chairperson should solicit volunteers and look for donated foodstuffs. Along with soup cooks, volunteers are needed to prepare the plates, serve, and clean afterwards. For recipes from Developing Countries, see “More-with-Less Cookbook” and “Extending the Table,” p. 40.

Physical Arrangements

When selecting an appropriate festival site, consider the following:

1) A central location with which most people are familiar.

2) Available parking and near a bus stop.

3) Kitchen and dining facilities if a meal is to be served.

4) Assured access to the building and its facilities for setting up the festival as well as during the event.

5) An enthusiastic, supportive host – one who donates the use of the building and facilities, makes equipment available, etc.

A church makes an excellent location, especially one with which some of the organizers are familiar. Usually church buildings have a kitchen and a dining facility to serve lunch, and rooms are likely to be clustered. Our facility is nearly perfect with a large entry area for the central exhibit, a large common area where program events are held. This area is surrounded by classrooms of varying sizes for the smaller exhibits.

The Physical Arrangements Chairperson negotiates building and equipment arrangements with the site manager. Be as specific as possible to avoid false assumptions by either the host or the festival organizers about what facilities may be used, when access will be granted, who will clean up, etc.

Identify sources for a PA system; video players; film and slide projectors; screens; extension cords (with adapters, if necessary) and get commitments for their use well in advance of the festival. Using a checklist compiled by the Exhibits Chairperson, assemble the equipment a few days before the event.

In consultation with the Festival Coordinator and Exhibits Chairperson, the committee assigns areas to the exhibits before the final planning meeting. The special space and light needs of the different exhibits and program events must be taken into account in scheduling.

Plan to have enough volunteers to make the festival run smoothly. Showing videos continuously during the day requires one person. A person familiar with all the AV equipment, including the PA system, is needed to set up and troubleshoot throughout the festival. Have one or two volunteers whose sole responsibility on the day of the festival is to “go-fer” and troubleshoot.

Providing childcare is a wonderful way to express appreciation for volunteers who staff the exhibits.


Inexpensive publicity is almost entirely dependent on personal contact. That means the Publicity Committee must make a commitment of time early in the planning.

We suggest a two-pronged approach to publicity for churches. Make a list of leaders in local denominations no less than three months before the festival. Armed with the materials and endorsements specific to each denomination, the Publicity Chairperson visits these leaders, by appointment, to explain how the festival fits into their denomination’s program and to ask for their support and suggestions for publicity and other contacts. Committee members use their suggestions to develop specific publicity, such as writing articles for denominational newsletters, visiting area meetings of the denomination, ministerial associations, etc. Using this method, news of the festival will be available to the leaders of the churches in the larger denominations.

The second part of the strategy is to send a poster and letter of

explanation to contacts in as many churches as the committee has time and energy to do. To keep costs at a minimum, we make our own posters, using construction paper as a background for Alternatives’ bulletin inserts, penning in pertinent information. This is time consuming, but effective, if you don’t have too many to do. The letter of explanation accompanying the poster should include not only why this festival is being held, but also two or three sample announcements to put into church bulletins.

For really inexpensive bulk distribution we make copies of the poster on white recycled paper and highlight in colored pens a few of the features. Very cheap and quick!

Post a few large Alternatives posters mounted on large sheets of construction paper with pertinent festival information in select locations – bulletin board for volunteers at local food pantry, for example.

Use the local media for publicity. Compile a list of telephone numbers of local newspapers, radio and TV stations. At least two months before the festival, get the names of individuals responsible for public service announcements (PSAs). Contact these people to get exact information about timetables and formats for the PSA. These vary widely. One station may require a 15-second announcement typed on a card and submitted two weeks prior to airing. Another may ask someone from your committee to come to the station and tape a 30-second announcement. Make a good impression by following instructions exactly. Being well prepared increases your chance for good coverage, but good coverage is never guaranteed!

Be alert to possibilities for more creative publicity. A newspaper reporter may be interested in why your group is planning an alternative festival. Analyze your newspaper or ask around to find out which reporters are most likely to do this kind of story. After arrangements are made, help the reporter to get a good article by providing an interesting story angle.

Other publicity possibilities include writing a letter to the editor just as the plastic ornaments are installed in your town streets. See if a couple of your best communicators can get onto a local talk show. If that is not possible, tune in to talk shows and call in to open lines. Let your imagination go. Analyze what “sells” in your area. Use more than one method. Keep all publicity upbeat and brief.


First, have a clear understanding of how expenses will be covered. But if simplicity is honored and ways to absorb the minimal expenses devised, there should be little problem. Some of the ways we manage are discussed earlier. A few more follow.

With a start-up grant from our local hunger group (you might also solicit funds from churches), we rent videos, buy printed materials for hand-outs, and purchase supplies such as a package of white poster board, a couple of packages of multi colored construction paper of different sizes, pens, etc. We make it clear that any expense incurred by volunteers will be repaid, but almost no one has ever asked.

The following is a list of some things we do in order to make ends meet.

1) Although we have never had an admission charge, a donation box at the exit brings in a reasonable amount of money.

2) Serving lunch brings in a sizable income since most of the food is donated.

3) Various churches donate the use of their audiovisual equipment and copying machines. Printing would be a BIG expense otherwise! It is very helpful for members of these churches to make these requests.

4) One friend donates a tree for our common area. It is possible for the tree to be a tax-deductible gift if it is planted in certain approved areas after the festival.

5) We are very careful with money. We constantly remind exhibitors of the purpose of the festival. Human nature being what it is, it is incredibly easy for folks to get caught up in bigger and more expensive plans without that reminder.

Tying Things Up

After the festival is over, we do our very best to get written evaluations from committee chairpersons and all the exhibitors about what they did – both right and wrong – and what might be changed in the overall design next time. Evaluations are hard to get, but they are invaluable for planning. Also, it is amazing how much information is forgotten from one year to the next unless it is written down. The evaluation form we place at the exit for guests to fill out does not yield many responses, but it does give us valuable suggestions. On the form, we also ask if and how guests would like to participate in the next festival. This has worked!

One person should have the responsibility for keeping all the posters, materials, etc. It makes the next year so much easier!

Start another folder for next year even before this festival is over. As you prepare, you will find useful ideas and materials too late to be put to use. You will dream new dreams. But you will forget them unless you write them down.

We have borrowed, modified and hopefully enriched the ideas and materials of countless others. We do not even know most of the contributors, but their creativity has spurred our own. Now we encourage you to do the same. Writing this guide has been our gift to all of you “alternatives” seekers. Now we encourage you to give to others by sharing your dreams and plans with them.


1. “Unplug the Christmas Machine” by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli ($10), and “Leader’s Guide to ‘Unplug the Christmas Machine’ Workshop” ($10); a shorter worksheet, “Let’s Talk About Christmas,” all from Alternatives, pp. 29-32.

2. From a sermon by Rev. Arley Fadness, p. 9; also in “To Celebrate,” p. 48, and “Treasury of Celebrations,” p. 217.

3. Information on Church World Service (CWS) Kits (layettes, school hygiene, sewing, school), blankets available from CWS Clothing Appeal, Elkhart, IN 46515 (219/264-3102).

4. A list of worthy national and international organizations appears in each annual edition of Alternatives’ booklet “Whose Birthday Is It, Anyway?” (ecumenical, not diocesan or denominational, versions).

5. Available from EcuFilm, 810 12th Ave. S, Nashville, TN 37201 (615-242-6277). Ecufilm carries many excellent AVs with themes related to an alternative Christmas. Others that we have used include “The Giving Tree,” “The Town That Forgot Christmas,” and “The Secret of the Second Basement.” Ask for a catalog.

6. See Chapter 4, “The Four Things Children Really Want for Christmas” in “Unplug the Christmas Machine” (note #1 above). “Parents” Magazine, January, 1996, and “Working Woman,” December, 1995, have ideas of celebrating with kids rituals for Christmas and for passing the faith. Be cautious when using commercial magazines.

7. Available from Alternatives, along with many other books for children, or for adults who live and work with children.

8. Bread for the World, 1100 Wayne Ave, Ste 1000, Silver Spring MD 20910 (800/822-7323). Christian, bipartisan citizen’s movement to impact national public policy affecting the poor.

9. Heifer Project International, Central Headquarters, PO Box 808, Little Rock, AR 72203 (800/422-0474). Organization sends livestock to poor areas of the world. Plans for an Alternative Christmas Fair to benefit Heifer Project are available.

10. Habitat for Humanity, Inc., 121 Habitat St., Americus, GA 31709 (800-HABITAT). Nonprofit Christian housing ministry dedicated to helping poor people improve their conditions.

11. CCF World Bazaar, PO Box 26511, Richmond, VA 23261 (800-366-5896); Oxfam America Trading, PO Box 821, Lewiston ME 04240 (800/639-2141); and Friends of the Third World, 611 W Wayne St., Fort Wayne, IN 46802-2167 (219-422-6821), all seek to create a fair market for crafts made by people of the Third World, while educating North Americans to the conditions surrounding the craft makers.

12. Ten Thousand Villages (formerly Self Help Crafts), PO Box 500, Akron PA 17501-0500 (800/592-7238). Program of the Mennonite Central Committee which operates as a marketing outlet for skilled crafts people from many developing countries. It has a good descriptive video.

13. SERRV, PO Box 365, New Windsor, MD 21776-0365 (800-723-3712). An ecumenical organization designed to provide a major alternative sales outlet to artisans in economically developing areas of the world. Descriptive video available. For those who want to go beyond an annual fair to establish a Third World Craft Shop, the resource “Getting Crafty for Justice” by Charline Watts is available from SERRV.

14. Pueblo to People, 2105 Silber Rd., Ste. 101, Houston TX 77055 (713/956-1172) supports cooperatives in Central America through sale of their crafts.

15. Koinonia Partners, Americus, GA 31709-9986 (912-924-1224). A Christian community which sells mainly pecan and peanut products to support its service projects.

16. “The Jesse Tree,” Raymond and Georgene Anderson (Augsburg-Fortress, 1966). Also, see 1996 edition “Whose Birthday Is It, Anyway?” booklet.

17. Institute for Peace and Justice, 4144 Lindell Blvd., #408, St. Louis, MO 63108 (314/533-4445) has many useful materials, including toys for kids.

18. “Values through Toys,” a pamphlet from Peace Resource Center of San Diego, 5717 Lindo Paseo, San Diego, CA 92115 (619-265-0730).

19. Family Pastimes, RR4, Perth, Ontario, Canada K7H 3C6 (613-267-4819), makes many cooperative games. Ask for catalog.

20. Animal Town Game Co., PO Box 757, Greenland, NH 03840 (800-445-8642). Family business which makes its own games and markets excellent toys from other manufacturers. Ask for catalog.

21. “Gifts of Peace” Packet ($5), “Families Creating a Circle of Peace” ($5) and others.

22.“Peacemaking in the Family by Mister Rogers,” “Peacemaking Together; Activities for All Ages,“ ”The Things That Make for Peace... Begin with the Children,” and several other resources are available from the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, 100 Witherspoon St., Louisville, KY 40202-1396 (502-569-5784). Also visit Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, www.bpfna.org.

23. “I Can Make Peace,” tape from Herald Press, 616 Walnut, Scottdale, PA 15683 (800- 245-7894).

24. “Seeing Through Commercials,” film from Barr Films, 12801 Schabarum St., Irwindale, CA (818-338-7878) and Institute for Peace and Justice (see #17 above).

25. “The Energy Carol,” film about energy consumption from CWS-CROP Film Library, Elkhart, IN 46515 (219/264-3102).

26. For more good ideas and help, see: Alternatives’ annual Advent/Christmas calendars; “The Heart of the Family: Searching America for New Traditions That Fulfill Us” by Meg Cox; “Ending, Blending & Beginning Traditions” ritual in “Whose Birthday Is It, Anyway?” 1997; “Simplify & Celebrate: Embracing the Soul of Christmas”; “Treasury of Celebrations: Create Celebrations That Reflect Your Values and Don’t Cost the Earth”; “A Simple Christmas: Hundreds of Ways to Bring Christ and Joy Back into Christmas, in the Spirit of More-with-Less” by Alice Chapin; “Unplug the Christmas Machine” index (see note #1 above), for example “stress” (p. 206) and “depression” (p. 200).

Virginia Stevens and Ann Latham organized several successful community Christmas festivals. Virginia is Associate for Mission, Presbytery of Western North Carolina.


Page updated 26 Jan. 2014
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