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Cultures unite at Christmas concert
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At Gainesville First United Methodist Church, Christmas is not defined by skin color, language or nationality.

And more than 300 people from various backgrounds filled the pews Sunday evening at the church on Thompson Bridge Road for the 11th Annual Multicultural Concert "Christmas is One Language."

Held by the Gainesville Multicultural Committee, the concert featured performances by soloist Luz Piedad Lopez, the Gainesville First UMC Adult Handbell Choir, the Gainesville High School Crimson Chorus and the Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School Singers.

John Rose III paid tribute to Scotland by playing the bagpipes, and five members of the Ballet Mexicano de Lupita Sosa danced to celebrate Mexican heritage.

In addition, the St. John Baptist Church Men's Chorus performed a montage of carols and a spiritual number that earned the choir a standing ovation.

The concert was dedicated to two late musicians, Marcus Stephens and Tim Cantrell, who were acknowledged during the service as people who played pivotal roles in establishing the multicultural celebration in Gainesville.

Eleven Brenau University students also participated in the celebration.

Wearing their native country's traditional garb, four students represented China, while four others represented Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kenya. Three more represented Afghanistan.

"You've got Scottish, Mexican, the Chinese hostess for Brenau ... It's a meeting point for all the cultures we have here," said Enrique Montiel, Chairman of the Gainesville Cultural Committee. "Next time you talk about Gainesville, Georgia, don't think of it as a small town in Georgia -- we have cultures from all over the world here."

Montiel said that each year, several performers remark that the multicultural celebration exposed them to new cultures in Gainesville.

"For example, the guys from St. John's men's choir said, ‘We love the Mexican dance,' because if they hadn't been here, they probably wouldn't have seen it otherwise. And the Mexican group loved to see the St. John's choir because if they weren't here, they wouldn't have listened to them," Montiel said.

He added that the only criteria for a group to be eligible to perform in the event is that they must celebrate Christmas. "However they do it, Christmas is about one thing," Montiel said, "It's about Jesus Christ."

Sam Marley, Director of Music at Gainesville First UMC, said that he really appreciates seeing the various facets of all the cultures in town. "This area is so rich with a wide variety of cultural influences, and we don't see that unless we have something like this that brings it all together," Marley said.

He added that the program is entitled "Christmas is One Language" because the holiday transcends all the cultures represented in different ways. It may take different shapes and different forms in different cultures, he said, but the reason for the celebration is a common theme that runs through the many cultures.

"That's one thing that we can all relate to, I think," Marley said. "The fact that we can share the season of Christmas ... and we can come together on that same ground, and worship together and celebrate together."

"Christmas is a universal language," Montiel added. "Everybody knows what Christmas is about."