Happy “Holly Days” in Vineyard Haven

Every year, members and neighbors of Grace Episcopal Church in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts, flock to the parish hall for the annual Holly Day Luncheon and Fair, which benefits Episcopal Relief & Development’s work to alleviate poverty worldwide. This long-standing event, which began when Episcopal Relief & Development was still the Presiding Bishop’s Fund for World Relief, has become an institution in Vineyard Haven thanks to Grace’s dedicated organizers and legendary cranberry gelatin salad.

According to the Rev. Don Lyons, former rector and current member at Grace, the modern incarnation of Holly Day began in the late ‘60s, when a woman named Claire Drew retired as the town’s postmistress and was looking for a way to keep busy. Initially resistant to anything that would make too much of a fuss, Father Lyons eventually came around to the idea as long as the organizers agreed to donate all of the money they raised. The first Holly Day luncheon and greenery sale generated about $1,000, which was designated for the Presiding Bishop’s Fund.

Over the next several years, the event grew in size and popularity, and the proceeds always went to the Presiding Bishop’s Fund. Grace Episcopal Church was proud of its successful annual event, but it was still a surprise to receive a phone call from the head of the organization at the time, who told Father Lyons that Grace was the single largest parish donor in the country and that he would like to come and say thank you in person. The relationship between the church and the organization now known as Episcopal Relief & Development has been strong ever since.

The church’s luncheon menu has changed over time – Pat Waring, one of the organizers for this year’s Holly Day, remembers her first luncheon 30 years ago as a more formal affair, featuring chicken á la king – and this year included a “grilled cheese bar” along with tomato soup, chowder, veggie wraps and Christmas cookies. The fair has expanded from a greenery sale to offer handmade crafts and ornaments, baked goods, a White Elephant sale and a silent auction.

A more recent addition has been a “Children’s Shopping Room” where youngsters can browse and choose gifts for their friends and family, and even have them gift wrapped, all on a kid-sized budget. According to Pat, the Children’s Shopping Room began when two young moms from the congregation had the idea to set aside some of the cute and affordable donated items from the church’s White Elephant collection. Special displays are set up in one of the church’s meeting rooms with gifts for Mom, Dad, grandparents, siblings and friends. This year’s event also featured fun Christmas crafts and a play area for the little ones. “The room was filled with giggles and kids and excitement all day – colorful, happy chaos,” said Pat.

As a mother in the early ‘80s, Pat would bake for the Holly Day bake sale and bring her young daughter, Diana, to church with her. As Diana got older, she would also help bake for the fair, and the two had fun picking out unusual “treasures” at the White Elephant and craft sales. Now in her 30s, Diana is one of the most faithful organizers, bringing her famous chocolate chip cookies – or a pie, if she’s feeling ambitious – and this year creating the promotional flyers that advertised the event.

“I love the fact that Diana first came as a little girl thrilled by the magical atmosphere of the parish hall with all the treats and treasures and Christmas spirit and now she is a dedicated helper,” Pat said. “I had wonderful memories of attending our Christmas Bazaar in Connecticut as a child and teenager (St. Mark’s, New Britain) and how fun and magical it was, and I wanted her to have that same experience.”

Creating space for children to get involved in church activities, whether in worship or in outreach, is a growing priority for many Episcopal congregations. As a channel for global outreach, Episcopal Relief & Development seeks to support these efforts through its Christian Formation and Gifts for Life programs. Curriculum packages for children and youth are available online, including a six-part Children’s Chapel series for Advent. Gifts for Life is Episcopal Relief & Development’s alternative gift catalog, featuring items that can be purchased in honor of a friend or family member.

“Engaging children and young people in our mission of healing a hurting world is vitally important to our ministry and to the Church as a whole,” said Joy Shigaki, Director of the NetsforLife® Inspiration Fund and Church Campaigns for Episcopal Relief & Development. “One way to do this is to provide opportunities for them to get involved in giving – whether it’s a Gifts for Life item through their Sunday School or a gift for a loved one through a church bazaar. Sharing our resources for the benefit of others is something the Church can model and instill as a value, so that communities can continue to be strengthened, both at home and worldwide.”