Several East County choirs have shared songs
by: Rob Cullivan Several East County choirs participate in the Festival of Lights each year at the Grotto and perform in its chapel, renowned for its acoustics.

On a dry, chilly but comfortable December evening at the Grotto, Eric Hartwig of Metzger, outside Beaverton, was enjoying the sights.

'I hadn't been here before, and I heard really good things about it,' he said. 'It's nice to have a place where you can take the kids in a safe environment and then see this.'

Hartwig was attending the annual Christmas Festival of Lights at the Grotto, on the corner of Northeast 85th Avenue and Sandy Boulevard, Portland. Joining him was his wife, Tonya, and their two children, Alexander, 5, and Abigail, 18 months.

'It's better than expected,' Hartwig said.

'It's beautiful,' his wife added.

'We're going to come back in the summer,' Alexander piped up.

The Hartwigs both worked in retail at one time, and had come to dread the Christmas season, with its commercialized hustle and bustle.

'Now that we don't work in retail, we're able to relax and feel the true meaning of the season,' Tonya said.

Music everywhere

The festival runs through Friday, Dec. 30, and is closed Christmas Day. The festival features almost 170 indoor holiday concerts and has already featured East County choirs from Corbett Middle School, Barlow High, Alder Creek Middle School and Sandy High.

Three more East County choirs are going to perform. At 5:15 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 11, the Gresham Christmas Choir will sing in the chapel. Then on Thursday, Dec. 15, the Centennial High A Capella Choir will perform at 7 p.m. and the Gresham High Choir will sing at 8 p.m.

Janine Kirstein, choral director at Gresham, notes her students are looking forward to performing at the Grotto.

'It's a chapel that's built for choral music, and it's a place where we sing for the public, not just for parents,' she said.

Festival facts

The festival runs from 5-9:30 p.m. each day, with the grounds closing at 10 p.m.

Admission is $8 for adults, $4 for children ages 3 to 12, and free for children 2 and younger.

Tickets are available at the entry gate or may be purchased in advance at the Grotto's gift shop before 4 p.m. daily.

Free parking is available.

Visitors are asked to bring a donation of canned or dry food for SnowCap, which serves low-income people in East County.

Five indoor concerts are scheduled each evening in the Grotto's chapel, and entertainment in the plaza area includes outdoor caroling, puppet shows and a live animal petting zoo.

The Festival of Lights is a walk-through event and visitors can expect to walk approximately one-quarter mile. All entertainment areas are either indoors or fully tented but visitors should dress for the weather.

While accessible to those with disabilities, the festival is not recommended for the elderly or frail.

For more information, call the Festival of Lights hot line at 503-261-2400 or visit

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