Just about all of the nearly 800 parish families enjoyed the annual two-day Winterfest at St. Bartholomew's Roman Catholic Church in Manchester this month.
Many tasted the homemade soups and others carried home a fresh-baked pie or cake. For the young, there were face painters and gingerbread houses, games and a visit from Santa Claus. For the adults, there were crafts, raffles and games of chance.
But the luckiest carried home one of the Rev. Martin H. Demek's Christmas theme baskets or embroidery creations.
This year's ninth annual Winterfest, which benefited the parish's more than 450 religious education students, was the last for Father Demek, pastor at the Manchester parish since 1987.
"I'm leaving on sabbatical in January and will be reassigned to another parish within the Archdiocese of Baltimore in July," Father Demek, 46, said last week as he sat in the cramped parish center office amid 19 colorful basket creations.
Each had a theme, he explained. Three of the baskets had a dozen wrapped gifts in each, "one for each of the 12 days of Christmas."
"One basket is for a man to give to his wife or girlfriend; one has gifts for a girl, and one is for a boy," he said.
Another basket creation was made for the dedicated letter writer, stuffed with stationery, and one was for a baker.
"That one has everything needed to bake a cake -- all the ingredients and even the recipe," he said.
Father Demek began his handmade creations as a way of thanking the parish volunteers who help out all year long.
Until the last couple of years, the priest of 20 years made doughboy ornaments for 400 to 500 parish volunteers. He baked, painted and shellacked each gift.
"I found it was a good way to relax, spending five minutes or 10 minutes between dinner and evening appointments, or going home at the end of the day and working for 30 to 45 minutes on them," he said.
Hesaid he recently learned the art of embroidery and has enjoyed making small items for this year's Winterfest.
"I do it to benefit the church and draw great pleasure from seeing how people enjoy these little gifts," he said.
Profits from all the donated items at the Winterfest will help buy such items as televisions and videocassette recorders for the religious education program, he said.
"Anything that will enhance our teaching the children is a plus," he said.
St. Bartholomew's opened as a mission in 1865 and became a full-fledged parish in 1965. The Winterfest is a longtime tradition but didn't expand to use the entire Parish Center until 1986, the year before Father Demek, the parish's third pastor, arrived.
He was ordained in 1975 after studying at the North American College in Rome.
Before arriving in Manchester, he was an associate pastor at Our Lady Queen of Peace in Middle River, St. Thomas Aquinas in Hampden and Shrine of the Little Flower in Baltimore.
Father Demek said he will miss the parishioners at St. Bartholomew's, who are in the middle of a $2 million fund-raising campaign to build a new church.
"We're in the second phase of three three-year pledge programs and have about $400,000 in the bank already," he said. "It will just take time. Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither will this church."