Story and photos by Susan Mikula Campbell
Anyone who ends up sick of turkey and Black Friday sales this week can find a little oasis of peace and beauty, complete with a camel, at Lewiston's Our Lady of Fatima Shrine.
The shrine's 22nd annual Festival of Lights was lighted on Saturday and will continue until Jan. 6, 2013. Admission is free for anyone seeking a bit of Christmas spirit.
Thousands of lights make up or illuminate various features of the festival. Walkway lights shine red and green. A star guides visitors to the entrance of the basilica, where the great dome glows with lines of blue lights. Visitors can climb to the top of the dome (weather permitting) for an "angel's view" of the display spread over 15 acres.
The Rev. Julio Ciavaglia, director of the shrine and founder of the Festival of Lights, adds at least one new feature each year and has lost track of exactly how many lighted religious symbols or figures are on the shrine grounds, but estimates it's more than 100. There are angels, manger scenes, doves flying amid tree branches and, this year, a menorah.
The lighted, nine-branched Hanukkah menorah at one time used to be a part of the Festival of Lights in Niagara Falls and was donated by the Jewish community, Ciavaglia said.
Historically, the Hanukkah menorah represents the Jews' rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Maccabees after victory over the Syrian-Greeks in 165 B.C. Only enough ritually pure olive oil was found to light the menorah for one day, but it shone for eight days. Thus, the Hanukkah menorah has eight lights, plus a ninth one traditionally used to light the others.
The shrine's "new" menorah, placed near the bell tower, needed quite a bit of restoration work due to its rough journey over the years.
It represents the symbolism and history of the Jewish community in Niagara Falls, but also speaks of the arrival of Advent in the Catholic Church, Ciavaglia said.
"The Jewish community and we, as Catholics, believe in the same God," Ciavaglia said. "It is in line with the Holy Father's proclamation making 2013 the Year of Faith. ... We're using that as a symbol of the faith passed on to us from the Old Testament to the New Testament."
All denominations and all faiths are invited to this free display.
Not all the festival figures are lighted. A new feature from last year has proved to be surprisingly popular, Ciavaglia said. Located in the foyer of the shrine's cafeteria are three Wise Men figures, with the faces cut out, inviting visitors to insert their own faces for photographs.
Visitors also will see the results of the $3 million renovation project at the shrine, although there are some small items left to do - "The cake is baked, but now we have to put on the frosting," Ciavaglia commented.
Many groups and families make a visit to the Our Lady of Fatima Shrine Festival of Lights an annual event, marking the start of their holiday season, Ciavaglia said. Newcomers are often impressed that it's all free.
Work on the annual display starts in July.
"It's a lot of work, but the satisfaction that comes with it is inspiring art-wise and spiritually," Ciavaglia said. "It keeps the meaning of Christmas alive."
Upcoming special events at Our Lady of Fatima Shrine, located at 1023 Swann Road in Lewiston, include:
•Friday, Nov. 30 - 7 p.m., The Rev. Bill Quinlivan concert "Crossing the Bridge to Christmas," with Toronto's Susan Hookong-Taylor and Ana DaCosta.
•Wednesday, Dec. 5 - 7 p.m., Festival of Lessons and Carols.
•Saturday, Dec. 8 - 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., National Night of Prayer for Life.
•Sunday, Dec. 9 - Fifth annual Fatima Shrine Bakers Guild Bake-off and Auction. Bake sale starts at 9 a.m., auction begins at 2 p.m. Event also includes a visit from St. Nicholas, 50/50 split drawing, live music and free coffee, tea and hot cider.
•Wednesday, Dec. 12 - 7 p.m., Buffalo Niagara Concert Band.
•Monday, Dec. 24 - Christmas Eve Masses at 4 p.m. and midnight.
•Tuesday, Dec. 25 - Christmas Day Masses at 9 a.m. and noon.
•Thursday, Dec. 27 - 7 p.m., Voices of Mercy Concert.