CARNATION, Wash.—When Camp Gilead realized in the latter months of 2020 that it wouldn’t be able to host guest groups due to the continuing coronavirus, the staff brainstormed other possibilities for celebrating Christmas with guests.
“The idea of a drive-through Christmas experience began to take shape, and GileaAdvent was born,” says Kimberly Mallory, program director at the camp.
Last summer the camp’s theme was “The Beginning,” which celebrated the birth of Jesus. “It was a summer of all things Christmas!” So GileAdvent naturally flowed from that summer’s focus.
The staff unpacked the Christmas decor the camp had accumulated, and others caught the vision for the event and donated lights, time, and ideas. More than 50 families, individuals, and businesses volunteered their time, donated items, strung lights, or participated in the two-night event. Churches even adopted camp buildings to decorate with lights.
On the first night, Dec. 20, the camp had no idea how many guests to expect. But cars began arriving before the 5:00 p.m. start time. “As they began to line up across the bridge in our staging area, the line got longer and longer,” Kimberly says. “We quickly adapted and figured out the fastest way to bring cars in and out, hand out cookies and hot chocolate, and allow them to enjoy all there was to take in.” And there was plenty to take in: a live Nativity, carolers dressed as angels, live ballet excerpts from The Nutcracker, an ice-skater, and portrayals of the Christmas story.
“At one point, the line of cars was a mile long! It was a constant stream of cars, activity, and Christmas cheer.”
The second night was cold and wet, with steady rain. “Our volunteers rallied and really prepared to give our attendees a special experience and memorable night of Christmas lights,” Kimberly says.
And then snow started falling about halfway through that final night. “It was just the energy that was needed to forget the chill in the air and the soggy feet,” Kimberly says. “Our volunteers and participants were utterly enamored with the beauty of the lights, scenery, and sounds of snow!” Children and families sledded on the grounds and made snowmen. “It all seemed like part of the scenery!”
During GileAdvent, about 425 cars, representing several thousand people, drove through the camp. “Hundreds of cookies were passed out; many, many gallons of hot chocolate were consumed; feet were worn out from ice skating and ballet; and there were smiles all around,” Kimberly says.
Although the event was free, donations totaled over $12,000. “We were completely blown away with the generosity and graciousness of those that attended,” Kimberly says.
“On the heels of a particularly difficult year for many, it was a blessing to be able to see the smiles on the faces of children, adults, moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas and share the message of Jesus’ birth and what it means to our community and beyond.
“Camp Gilead means ‘Hill of Witness,’ and we were thrilled to be able to do exactly this and communicate the true meaning of Christmas this year at Gilead.”