When your church is named for St. Nicholas, celebrating the Christmas season seems like a natural fit.
Hundreds of parishioners, Evanstonians and visitors turned up for St. Nick’s Fest on Saturday at St. Nicholas Catholic Church. The annual event, a tradition at the church for nearly three decades, marks St. Nicholas Day.
With a tree sale, a craft fair and this year, Mexican food, the celebration, which continues Sunday, is a key fundraiser for the church. It also brings the community together.
For some people, “this is the biggest point of connection to the parish,” said David Hieneman, inventory controller for the tree sale. People don’t buy a Christmas tree everyday, and for some, it may be a first or the last time buying a tree, he said.
Hieneman, 40, said he has been participating in the tree sale since he was age 13. There is a core team of about six people, but many volunteers are necessary to conduct the tree sale.
“It is all volunteer-run, and everything goes to the parish,” he said.
Each year, the group manages hundreds of trees, from ordering, to unloading, to ensuring customers get their trees. This year, they had over 550 trees, with 75% to 80% of them being sold on the first day, Hieneman said.
In July this year, St. Nicholas Parish combined with the nearby St. Mary’s to create the unified St. John XXIII Parish, though each church building keeps its own name.
Hieneman said it was nice to see new faces as a result of the combined parish, adding that he was pleased with the turnout despite the cold, windy Saturday.
Inside the Oldershaw Hall and the cafeteria in Pope John School, which sits adjacent to the church, there was a craft fair, with nearly 70 artists selling items including jewelry, pottery, knitwear, bowls and pens. Several of the artists were returning this year to the sale.
“What I look forward to is the experience of community,” Bob Shuford, coordinator of the craft sale said. Just as he said this, two parishioners in the room began dancing.
Shuford, 77, a former hospital chaplain, is a faculty member of the Evanston Art Center, where he teaches wood turning. He has been practicing the craft for nearly 25 years, he said. “Doing the work and teaching is fulfilling,” he said.
“This event is one of the things that brings us hope,” Shuford said, during a “hard and painful time,” citing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.
The fest continued Sunday for another day of tree sales, crafts and food.