Candlelight 2011 wrapped up over three weeks ago, but we’re still on a bit of a high from a truly great weekend. The weather was beautiful, lots of fabulous people came to see us (and hopefully you were one of them!), and everything just seemed to work. Plus, it was fun to celebrate 40 years of tradition.

During that very hectic week, I caught myself thinking about all of the people that make that event possible. Part of the reason Candlelight has continued for 40 years is that it’s never been solely a staff-driven event; it’s fueled by our larger community. Though we work with some of these groups throughout the year, everyone comes together at once for Candlelight. And it’s pretty magical.

So, in no particular order (and with an almost paralyzing fear that we’ll leave someone out), we’d like to talk a bit about those various groups and individuals that make Candlelight possible.

The Guild of Dallas Heritage Village: Though the Guild is active all year long, they really shine at Candlelight. The bake sale has been a part of Candlelight since the beginning, and the Guild has been managing it almost as long. They bake and bake and then bake some more. There are cheese ball assembly lines. Some years, they go home on Saturday night and fire up their ovens again because the supply is running low. This year was a record year for them, and I know many of these women devoted the entire weekend to us.

Decorating Groups: Some of the buildings are decorated by curatorial staff, but not all of them. Since the 1970s, community groups have adopted buildings and decorated them. They schedule a time to decorate right after Thanksgiving and then come back in January to put it all away. At least a few of these groups have been involved for decades.

Volunteers: Of course, the vast majority of people that make Candlelight happen are volunteers, so it almost seems redundant to mention them again. But I think I have to. We have volunteers we see year-round and spend the entire weekend with us. We have volunteers that we see just once a year at Candlelight. We have some folks in costume. We have volunteers from community groups like the National Charity League, and we have some from corporations like Comerica Bank. We have Junior Historians that are somehow able to be in a million places at once. Sometimes even parents of Junior Historians come to lend a hand. Over 200 volunteers made Candlelight happen this year. 200!

Friends and Family of Staff: When you work for a small non-profit, sometimes it is necessary to rope friends and family into the action. We’ve put husbands, boyfriends and sons in the parking lot to collect money. Daughters have assisted with the accounting and cash counting. Parents have provided food for the weekend. Husbands have picked up extra ice, attempted to fix a photo printer, and run the sound system on Main Street. Most of all, they support us!

Photographers: Back in 2007, we began building a team of volunteer photographers. No doubt you’ve seen their work—it’s now all over our website, facebook, the Annual Report. They have skills and cameras that are way beyond the skills of our staff. Plus, there are now quite a few of them so they can capture all sorts of wonderful moments.

The Entertainers: Rain, sleet or snow—and sometimes even perfect winter sunshine–various performing groups share their talents with our visitors. Some are semi-professional and some are still in grade school, but all of them bring music to the Village. This year, we’re especially pleased that members of the Old Time Music Jam (which meets here twice a month) are now a part of our community.

Trinity River Desperadoes: Throughout the year, they hang out at the Saloon and occasionally get into very dramatic arguments. But at Candlelight, they set up camp next to the bonfire in the Valley—and it’s beautiful and cozy and fun and adds so much wonderful atmosphere to the event. Plus, the sweet potato biscuits are pretty tasty.

Board Members: While their financial support is invaluable, their moral support is pretty important too. They believe in the Village—we have a few board members that have been involved with us almost since beginning, and they definitely remember those early Candlelights. You might have met some of them at the front gate, but there were also plenty of board members that simply enjoyed themselves as visitors. And we like that too.

As 2012 gets going, it’s deeply satisfying to have the support of so many people with so many wonderful talents. I wish I could go into more details and tell you more stories about how wonderful all of these people are, but that might turn into a book. So, for those of you that are a part of this wonderful community, please accept our virtual hug as we thank you for all that you do. And for the rest of you, we’d love for you to become more involved in the coming year.

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