How long must a holiday event run before it’s considered a tradition?
For Foothills Baptist Church’s Snowy Night at Foothills, just three years have pushed the community’s excitement level high as organizers truck in a mound of snow – and make snow fall on the desert-bound attendees.
This year, the white stuff provided by The Ice Wagon company of Laveen will be increased from 15 tons to 20, some of which is blown to resemble a soft snowfall.
For Jessica Miller and husband Louie Schoettle, after watching their 2-year-old daughter Lucy tromp up the snowy hill and learn to throw snowballs – at her parents only, she was cautioned – the event is a highlight on the family calendar.
They’re not alone.
The Foothills Baptist Church, located off Chandler Boulevard at 15450 S. 21st St., Ahwatukee, has been planning the Saturday, Dec. 9, event since April under the direction of Susan Burress, event coordinator.
“I start with securing the snow pile first, then made many calls to make sure we had our activities and food vendors,” said Burris, a 26-year Ahwatukee resident and Foothills Baptist Church member for 23 years.
“I have a committee to handle all the crafts, face painting, campfires and s’mores, the hot cocoa bar and cookies as well as the family photo area by the Christmas tree. Yes, its a lot of work, but this is our gift to our community,” she added.
In total, Burris estimates at least 50 volunteers from Foothills Baptist Church – celebrating its 30th year – help assure all runs smoothly for the event, which runs 5-8 p.m.
“It’s a super fun evening making new friends in the community, eating the tasty treats, and celebrating the spirit of Christmas,” said Burress, who is also ministry assistant to lead Pastor Nathan “Nate” Millican.
Millican agrees that bringing the community together for the Snowy Night at Foothills is well worth the time and effort of the church and its members.
“We want to be a church that creates space for people to get to know their neighbors and their community,” he said. “Jesus calls us to be a light in the community, and Snowy Night is just one way we’re hoping to engage our community.”
The Snowy Night at Foothills has garnered fans from the community, many of whom, like Jessica Miller and Louie Schoettle. bring not only family members, but friends.
And it’s not just the kids playing in the snow that are captivated by the cold, white stuff appearing in the desert.
“I love seeing snow, even if it’s being blown from a truck,” said Andi Carter, who has attended the last two Snowy Nights with her son, Kyle, now 7.
The Tempe resident said she was told of the event by a friend attending the church, and is eagerly looking forward to this year.
“I know Kyle has a blast on the snow hill and making snowballs, but for me this is also really special because it brings back memories of my snow-filled days growing up in central Wisconsin,” said Carter, adding:
“How special is it that the church gives all of us this opportunity to play in the snow while living here in the desert? My son would never have experienced it without this. And he also loves eating the s’mores, but then so do I.”
The s’mores are free, and prepared on four blazing firepits.
For Miller, watching her toddler interact with an element she’d never encountered previously is also a thrill.
“Last year at Snowy Night, Lucy quickly learned that snow is cold, and she loved it. She enjoyed tromping around on the mountain of snow, even pretending to be Princess Elsa for awhile, and was pretty enamored with the whole concept of throwing snowballs,” Miller said.
“We missed out on the train ride and the s’mores because she fell asleep of pure exhaustion from all the excitement, so I’m looking forward to that as much as she is,” added Miller, an attorney who practices employment litigation and is an avid snowboarder who often hits the slopes in Show Low and Flagstaff.
“I love this event because it involves the entire Ahwatukee community and gives me an opportunity to meet families that live in my same neighborhood,” she said, adding:
“It perfectly captures the iconic aspects of the Christmas Holiday – family and friends, snowfall, bonfire, Christmas lights and goodies for the kids.”
A Snowy Night at Foothills replaced the church’s 10-year Living Christmas Tree extravaganza that featured a choir on risers with music performed in sync with lights and other effects.
Besides the tons of snow, the church campus will be ablaze with white lights in keeping with the Festival of Lights, while blue lights adorn the olive trees in the church’s central courtyard.
Kids’ crafts, two trackless trains, a large petting zoo, a balloon artist making the rounds and a free photo booth with a holiday backdrop for family portraits are also part of the festivities.
There is no admission charge, and though there is a charge for street tacos, snow cones or kettle corn, it is minimal and other food and drink treats are free.