I bet you came here thinking you were going to read about a gingerbread house or church in this case.
This post is about that and so much more.
It is about words and music, passion, loss and grief.
It is about firsts and creativity.
A group of music lovers that have become to feel like family.
That is everything that this years gingerbread build represents.
This was the first time I have participated in the Festival of Trees in Edmonton. Over the years I have had the amazing opportunity to be a part of both the Festival of Trees in Grande Prairie and Barrhead. I have always wanted to be a part of the Festival in Edmonton and this year everything came together.
Nailing down a design in late September I got to work on completing the blueprints. I started to bake pieces for the church early in October, between working full time and a road trip planned for mid October to Vancouver to catch a rock and roll show I wanted to get an early start. Knowing that I would have a better time in Vancouver if I was not worrying about the build, feeling confident that I had a good start on it back at home.
The hardest part for me of any gingerbread project is picking the perfect name. It captures the essence of the project and hopefully is a fit for what I am trying to create. As I was planning the design I decided that I would have a minister standing outside of the church to welcome his parishioners and was tossing names around. Michael, Stephen, Douglas….nothing felt right.
Putting it on the back burner I knew it would come to me, the deadline for turning in my project idea was approaching quickly, due the same day I was leaving for Vancouver. A few days before leaving on my road trip it all fell into place. With the trip heavy in my thoughts and needing to get my paperwork turned into the foundation I began brainstorming names at work. I whispered the name Father John and in that moment it came to me.
The Christmas Congregation
Pleased that I had nailed down the name and theme for the build I left for Vancouver ready for a few days of rock and roll and relaxation. This was the second time I have travelled to Vancouver to catch The Afghan Whigs. People have said, “you’re going all the way to Vancouver for a concert, that’s pretty dedicated.” Indeed. Music is my fuel, my therapy, my everything. It is what has gotten me through the hardest days of my journey. Some people rely on friendships or family, others drugs and alcohol, sometimes food or extreme exercise to comfort them in the darkest moments of their lives.
For me it is music that gets me through. It always has. I celebrate every moment with music. It is through the words and music that I search for acceptance or deal with defeat and despair, find resilience or hope, joy. I am able to explore my deepest darkest heartbreak and come out stronger, better because of words that resonate so deeply that somehow, over time, they heal. There are only a few bands that I can relate with on such a deeply profound level. The Afghan Whigs are THAT band for me. In those dark broken moments in my life their music and Greg’s words helped me to find hope and move forward.
The Afghan Whigs know about dark moments and pushing forward. Their strength in 2017 was something to admire. They lost an amazing friend, musician and fellow bandmate during the summer. When I heard about Dave Rossers cancer it took my breath away. I couldn’t believe it. 2 men I admired now were stricken with cancer, both terminal. How is that even possible.
As fans watched the Whigs tour Greg spoke of Dave at every show, and in some of those moments he was indeed there with them. The show that struck me the most was at the PukkelPop Festival. It was one of those chills passing over your body kind of moments when Greg spoke about Dave. Even though they were working through their heartbreaking loss, down one member of their team, they sounded amazing and my excitement for the Vancouver show was simmering beneath the surface.
The drive to Vancouver was amazing & exhausting. There is no more beautiful drive in Canada then travelling over the Rocky Mountains through the Icefields Parkway. 15 hours after we left we arrived at the AirBnb, I was grateful to be in the city ready to explore and discover.
It was Sunday evening, with the show being on Tuesday I had an entire day to be a tourist! That first day every free minute was filled, first we went down to the waterfront, took a drive out to Burnaby to do some exploring and ended up having some amazing seafood on Granville Island.
Tuesday we kept closer to the main part of the city exploring the Stanley Park then made our way through the downtown area.
Deciding to check out the area around the venue to see the best place to park I spotted Rick Nelson and Jon Skibic crossing the busy street in front of us. With a quick drive around the block we spotted the tour bus, as if I wasn’t excited enough, months of planning for this day finally here. The show was going to be spectacular!
My god it was! The energy of live music is something everyone has to experience. To be completely surrounded by the music of a band you love, it is easy to be swept away with the crowd as one in those moments. I can still remember how I felt that night. The band, Greg, the venue, the music, the crowd. These are the memories I live for. Of all the things I enjoy music is my fondest love. I can’t imagine my life without it.
The high you carry away from a live show can last for days. Feeling every beat of the music encompass you is powerful. Electric. There is absolutely nothing like it. And you feel that electricity for days afterwards. Reliving the show over in your thoughts. Falling into bed that night I was so grateful that I could make the trip out, life is short and we have to grab as many of those moments we can.
Morning came swiftly, it was going to be a long drive back home through the mountains and we wanted an early start. I stretched and grabbed my phone, seeing a message from a friend in New Brunswick. It took a second for my mind to grasp the words I was reading.
He simply said….
I hate to wake you up to the news….he’s gone Red 🙁 I wish I could hug you.
In that moment I went from the highest high to the lowest of lows.
He was Gord Downie and the night before while I was rocking out with my beloved Afghan Whigs my hero lost his battle with brain cancer. Gord was dead. He was gone.
The trip home is mostly a blur. Every gas station or restaurant we stopped in had the news on, it was all about Gord. Every radio station was playing the Hip and only the Hip. It was impossible to escape and more impossible to hold it together, nothing had prepared me for this day and I was beyond devastated. And hearing the music only compounded my pain. I sobbed openly, my heart shattered. As we traveled home heartbroken I played the Whigs. Searching for peace. Perhaps trying to outrun my grief. Broken, exhausted. Thankful for the time we had with Gord. The powerful energy of the night before fueled my emotional trip home.
Mourning one with the music of the other.
I took my grief and I channeled it into my gingerbread. Hard work has a way of being a distraction from the pain, it has always worked like that for me. When my son died it was hard work that got me through and this was no different. And as the days rolled into weeks my heart began to heal and a church was built.
A Church Was Born
I am thrilled at how The Christmas Congregation turned out and I am super proud of my work. It was a fairly easy and clean design. As I worked on some of the finer details of my minister and his special guest I shared images with a small yet special group of music lovers who love and appreciate the Whigs as much as I do. To some this is just a gingerbread church, to others it is so much more.
So to my fellow Congos, thank you!
As it was my first time attending the Festival of Trees in Edmonton I really didn’t know what to expect. Competiting in a Festival of this size I was nervous and excited to see the talents of those who I was sharing the space with. All monies raised at this years Festival go to the Emergency Department at the University Hospital in Edmonton.
The Christmas Congregation did well at the Festival and Father Gregory and Mr. Rosser walked away with the GOLD! Each Festival has its own set of rules and in Edmonton they do not share the sales prices of the items sold at the auction. I admit, I am not a fan of the rule. I invest 100’s of hours into each of my gingerbread builds and I strive to raise the bar every year. My only hope is the someone who attended the Gala happened to catch the sale price for the Christmas Congregation and reaches out to me. Or the other possibility is if anyone has seen the Christmas Congregation on display in Edmonton through the Christmas season contacts me to let me know where the church was spotted so I could inquire with the new owner about their generous donation.
If you have read this far, I thank you for following along on my gingerbread journey. All those years ago I never expected that gingerbread would become such as passion of mine and that I could take that passion and raise thousands of dollars for charity. What started as a simple build this year turned into so much more. What began as a fun idea for a build turned into a project that injected my love and grief for 2 men gone from this world far to early. Who music has been my saviour, my confidante, at times my only friend. I am so glad I could share this extra special build with you all.