by Dana Williamson
LAWTON—A candle shop, a bake shop, a clothing boutique, a toy shop, a cafe, a trading post, a post office—11 shops in all, plus a park.
That’s more than a lot of rural Oklahoma towns can boast these days, and this particular Victorian village is encompassed in a church gymnasium.
This is the second year that Lawton, Cameron has transformed its gym into a winter wonderland, where the community can have a Christian Christmas experience.
Goal of the five-night event (this year it was Dec. 6-10) is to make connections with the people in the community and leave a positive impression of Christ and Christians, said Minister of Music Steve Holt.
“Most everyone in our country celebrates Christmas in some form or fashion, and we want to be a part of that for our community,” said Holt. “We want to give something to those who may have a wrong idea of what church is like.”
The gym area is fully decorated “from top to bottom,” to give it a feel of a Victorian park at night, Holt said. “We want it to be a sense of being transported to a simpler time when Christmas was more relationship oriented than commercial.”
Stores are constructed around the perimeter of the gym, with the middle section decorated with trees, benches and lanterns to resemble a park.
The shops are 16- to 20-feet wide, and all store fronts are different designs and all are decorated for Christmas.
There’s a post office where shoppers can collect their mail (Christmas greetings) and have a family photo taken to pick up before they leave.
In the candle shop, they can make and decorate a Christmas candle, and in the bake shop, they can decorate and eat cookies and enjoy a sample of cake, pie or bread.
Then shoppers can stop at the old school house, where they can hear a story and make a craft.
At the chapel, furnished with an altar, tables and pews, people can pray or leave a prayer request.
The trading post features an oversized checker board, other games and a pickle barrel. Here, food is collected for an organization which ministers to people in need during the holidays.
Children can get a toy at the toy shop, and also make a craft. Then they can make a Christmas ornament at Santa’s Workshop.
The boutique, called Victorian Thread, has free clothing in sizes from babies to adults.
When it’s time for a break, shoppers can stop at the Cocoa Cafe for a cup of hot chocolate, coffee or soup.
In the midst of all the shopping, there is music going on during three scheduled times each evening in the adjacent fellowship center, which is also decorated for Christmas. Here, shoppers can take a break to hear elementary, junior high and high school groups, as well as a local barbershop chorus, and various singing and instrumental groups from the area.
“This enhances the atmosphere of Christmas,” said Holt.
Holt said last year was the first for the village, and about 3,000-3,500 people came through.
“We really didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “We did a little advertising, but basically it has been word of mouth.”
This year, the church had a float in the city’s Christmas parade and passed out 2,500 flyers during the event.
Holt said after the Christmas Village, he was eating at a restaurant where one of the waitresses recognized him. She pulled out the picture of her and her children taken at the Village.
“It was in a plastic bag, and she carried it around with her,” Holt said.
Another lady who heard about the free clothing boutique, came to the church during the day for clothing, then brought her children back that night.
“She said she had absolutely no money, and there was no way to give her kids Christmas,” Holt recalled. “She told us she was barely surviving, and this made Christmas for her and her kids.”
Holt said the Christmas Village is not a huge evangelistic, “in-your-face” kind of event.
“We tell our folks the goal is to make connections with people in our community,” he said. “We don’t have any kind of sermon, but we have information in the chapel.”
Holt said a couple of people, after visiting with some of the church members, prayed to receive Christ.
“It’s a great opportunity to connect with the people around us,” Holt reiterated. “It’s a great season, and we want to leave a good impression of Christ through a positive Christmas experience.”