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‘Christmas Near the Beach’: Living room festival — for several thousand people

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Deena McDaniel buddies up with daughters Abby, left, and Rosey. All three will be in Christmas Near the Beach. (Photo: James D. Davis)

Santa is invited. So are some hip-hoppers, gospel singers and ballet dancers. Oh, and you are, too.

That’ll be Christmas Near the Beach, a flamboyant blend of music, dance, comedy and worship. The free festival is planned for 4-9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14, at ArtsPark in the heart of Hollywood, Fla.

“Everyone wants to have people for Christmas in their living room, but they can’t,” says Deena McDaniel, producer of the seventh annual Yuletide festival. She then grins and waves at the 2,400-square-foot stage at ArtsPark. “So let’s have it in my living room!”

Holding forth at the circular park at U.S. 1 and Hollywood Boulevard, Christmas Near the Beach will include a sampling of music and performance styles from around South Florida. Among them will be hip-hoppers Justin Phillips and Mr. E; the Overflow Band, a Spanish praise and worship group; St. Nick and the Florida Sunshine Band, a marching band; the Pursell Family Band, bluegrass gospel; and Sensere, a 1950s-style gospel group with horns and singers.

Also there will be Expressions of Joy, a dance studio for which McDaniel an instructor. They’ll perform excerpts of their Christmas ballet A Star Shall Come Forth. And they’ll do an excerpt from their original ballet based on The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis.

The biggest performance will be a flash mob of 200-300 dancers, choreographed by McDaniel, who shared the moves via YouTube.

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Deena McDaniel shows the “Grinchy” mask she’ll wear in a play at Christmas Near the Beach. (Photo: James D. Davis)

McDaniel herself will reprise her Grinchy Got Saved performance, in which she dresses and masks as a parody of Dr. Seuss’ sneering green character. She’ll also perform an athletic, gospel-oriented dance called Only One Roadway, wearing mime makeup that, she confesses, some children have found scary.

Christmas Near the Beach will offer other trappings of South Florida festivals as well: hot dogs, fried Oreo cookies, a Tacky Sweater Contest, arts and crafts for kids, and a classic car show (St. Nick will even arrive in one of them). You’ll also have a chance to win a Christmas tree in a free raffle.

The festival moved last December from its original home on Hollywood Beach, where it got about 1,000 people each year. Last year the crowd tripled, McDaniel said, and this year she gleefully expects 10,000.

But Christmas Near the Beach will ignore the reason for the season. After his big entrance, St. Nick will kneel before the Baby Jesus at a live Nativity scene. Also featured will be a message by Pastor Al Pino of McDaniel’s home church, Palm Vista Community Church in Miami Lakes.

The variety of the acts reflects the variety of the dozen participating churches, McDaniel says: Haitian, Hispanic and African American as well as Anglo. She says the audience itself will include about 50 congregations.

If Christmas is the right time for such a festival, Deena McDaniel is the right person to produce it. Besides her work with Expressions of Joy, she leads a fitness class at Memorial Hospital in Hollywood and has worked as an adjunct professor of cardio and Pilates at Barry University in Miami Shores. She also holds a degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma and worked for 10 years as a DJ in her former hometown of Camden, Mo.

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Two samples of the glass starfish ornaments for sale, to benefit Christmas Near the Beach. (Photo: James D. Davis)

Her two youngest daughters seem to be following in her nimble footsteps. Rosey, 12, has a speaking part as a “Who” in the Grinch play. She’ll also dance in the flash mob, as will sister Abby, 10.

Abby has her own vocabulary in talking about Christmas Near the Beach. “Super-extra-awesome-amazing,” she says with a smile.

Although the festival is free, McDaniel plans to pass the plate for the first time this year to defray the $11,000 price. Most of the cost is carried by sponsorship and donations, she says.

This year, the program will get help from another source: Hollywood Hot Glass, a glass-blowing workshop based at ArtsPark. Director Brenna Baker will sell glass starfish-shaped Christmas ornaments for $20 each, with proceeds to benefit Christmas Near the Beach.

Christmas Near the Beach is also getting coverage from Christian media, including radio stations WAY-FM, Reach-FM, and the GraceNet Internet broadcast. At least two secular newspapers, the Hollywood Gazette and the South Florida Sun Sentinel, have also shown interest.

How to know if Christmas Near the Beach is a success? Here, McDaniel tears up. “Whenever the gospel is preached, it’s a success. Being big doesn’t mean you’re faithful. God says to share the gospel and let him do the work.”

Then her bright smile returns. “But big is OK, too. I’ll take big.”

For more info, check out the Christmas Near the Beach website.

James D. Davis

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Written by Jim Davis

December 13, 2013 at 3:21 am

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