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An unorthodox celebration

Caramie Schnell
Special to The Vail TrailFall Fun Night Organizers have been setting up a tent for four years at Nottingham Park in Avon.
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Not every Eagle County kid will be traveling door-to-door this Halloween, stepping over fake witches, skeletons and ghosts to collect miniature Reeses, M&Ms and Twix bars. Instead, many of the valleys pumpkins and princesses will be attending an alternative Halloween event called Fall Fun Night at Avon Lake. Rather than battling ghosts and ghouls, theyll be navigating obstacle courses, suiting up in Sumo suits and playing carnival games. Children of all ages will be winning prizes and taking home candy that wont warrant an inspection from anxious parents.God desired that his children be a light in the world and typically this is a night that celebrates darkness and scariness, Calvary Chapels Pastor Tommy Schneider said. We wanted to provide a safe, happy, love-filled environment a celebration where kids can dress up and have a good time and arent freaked out by the other stuff.Schneider participated in a similar event back when he was a youth pastor in California. He saw a need in the valley for an alternative Halloween event and ran with it. This years Fall Fun Night will mark the seventh anniversary of the event and it will be the fourth year Fall Fun Night will be staged at Nottingham Park in Avon.

While Fall Fun Night certainly attracts parents who want to avoid Halloweens scary traditions or feel the holiday contradicts their Christian beliefs, others just dont want their children running around during what is often a very cold, sometimes snowy night.Jeanette Francis began taking her three children to Fall Fun Night, rather than trick or treating, because she wanted them to have a warm and safe place to celebrate. But now that shes learned more about the holiday from attending services at Calvary Chapel, her views have changed.But Im still not judging people who chose to do (Halloween), she said. My daughter is working on the Charter School haunted house for (the schools) 8th grade fundraiser, so that would be pretty hypocritical of me.Francis oldest son, Jaryd, was nine when the event began. Now Jaryd is a Vail Christian High School student and volunteers, along with many other students from the school, to help out at the event.Despite the fact that churches are organizing the event, dont expect a mass of Bible-wielders at Fall Fun Night, hoping to convert attendees. Francis said its the opposite. Its about blessing the (community) and quietly saying, Hey were a church and church is cool; Jesus is cool, Francis said. Its not about holy rollers beating you over the head with a Bible.

Earl Hartman has taken his daughter, Jasmine, to Fall Fun Night for the past two years. Hartman, who is a computer consultant in Vail, was raised Catholic, but said he thinks of himself as being affiliated with many of the local churches. I heard about the event through friends and decided to stop by, Hartman said. I was very impressed. They created a really nice environment. It was nice and warm in there; it can be chilly in October up here in the mountains. Weve gone trick or treating in other neighborhoods in the past, but its usually dark and cold, and youre definitely putting the snowsuits on the children.Hartman doesnt object to the mainstream Halloween celebrations, but he said he appreciates the lengths the local churches and community members have gone to in order to make Fall Fun Night successful.Its nice to be in a tent where its warm and safe and they have big inflatables. The kids can still dress up if theyd like, but they can also jump around and have a great time.For Rachelle Boe, the secretary at Calvary Chapel, organizing Fall Fun Night is an especially important task for two reasons: Kelsey and Kaelyn, her six- and eight-year-old daughters.The girls love Fall Fun Night, theyre already getting excited, Boe said. Though Boe never had to face deciding between taking her children trick or treating or boycotting the holiday altogether, she said she would have issues if it came down to that. (Halloween) is all about scary and evil and theres nothing fun and happy about it, she said. I wouldnt take my kids to a party where there are ghosts and vampires all around theyd have nightmares for weeks. If we didnt have (Fall Fun Night), wed probably go away for that night and just not be home.

In the three weeks preceding Halloween, Schneider said the entire Calvary Chapel staff puts nearly every other project on hold to prepare for the evening. Last year somewhere around 2,500 children and parents attended the event. Though the event was started by Calvary Chapel, it has become a collaboration between many area churches and businesses. Pastor Ethan Moore of Trinity Church in Edwards said that this will be the third year that the church has been significantly involved with the project.Theres a spirit of cooperation in this valley among the churches that you dont normally find in a community and Fall Fun Night is one of the best examples of it, Pastor Moore said. Its a no-strings-attached event, we just want to show the valley how much we love and care for it. Were not trying to beat anyone over the head with anything. (Fall Fun Night) is all about glorifying God, its not about Vail Bible, or Trinity or Calvary It breaks down barriers that all too often stand between churches and that should not be there. And its tons of fun, too.And for at least one local child, Sarah Schneider, 9, Fall Fun Night is more fun than trick or treating, anyway. I went (trick or treating) before and I didnt really like it, it was scary, Sarah said. (Fall Fun Night) isnt scary because the churches are trying to share Jesus so they dont want the yucky stuff.

The Town of Avon used to put on its own event called The Haunting, said Fraidy Aber, special events coordinator for the Town of Avon. The event was held at the Avon Recreation Center, which had to close for a few days each year in order to put up and take down the event. We were approached by Calvary Chapel about doing something outside, in a tent, and it made a lot of sense for us to switch over, Aber said. The Town of Avon contributes about $1,000 to the event each year, she said. The nice thing about it is they really serve a lot of younger kids; its a really fun, safe alternative for kids, Aber said. Theres tons of carnival games, inflatable jumpers, sumo wrestling, face painting, they have a coffee shop with baked goods. Its just been getting bigger and bigger. (The event) serves the community exceptionally well its free, open to the public and serves everyone in the valley and thats what we support. The amount of money (the town) puts in is a drop in the bucket compared to what they put in.Even though many of the kids that will be jumping and playing at this years Fall Fun Night dont know it, there are people that have been praying for the evening and for the children in the valley. Calvary Chapel has been handing out prayer cards for the event for the past few weeks.It really comes down to the idea that Jesus says we should love our neighbor as ourselves, Schneider said, and this night we want to do that, love our neighbors as ourselves and provide something that will make everyone feel blessed. Caramie Schnell can be reached for comment at cschnell@vailtrail.com.


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