Chicagoland Christmas Conference (aka: C3)

What's happening behind the scenes

In 2005, Carrie Sansing thought about holding a small gathering of Christmas decorators to be held at her suburban Chicago home. The event was originally intended to draw Midwesterners for a relaxed meet-up of hobbyist’s. The goal was to learn from each other, eat, socialize and have fun. Labor Day weekend 2006, a “throw away” holiday, seemed perfect. Enthusiasts from the Midwest would travel a short distance by car, returning home in plenty of time for Monday’s grilling activities. Thinking perhaps 20 to 25 people would attend, planning started. As it turned out, the first C3 was attended by over 50 people – from as far as California!

C3, the bi-annual event was born. And it has grown. In 2010 almost 100 hobbyists from 22 states attended. One couple made the trek all the way from Great Britain.

C3 2012 planning is currently underway. What goes into it? How do you organize, feed, house, provide education and fun to over 100 people, many of them strangers, in your backyard?
Getting the word out is job one. Our registration website went live in early March. But we don’t stop there. and are also used and frequently “bumped” to let hobbyists know what’s happening and provide updates.

Conventional educational symposiums often lean toward lectures in a conference room or convention center. C3 is a different animal. It’s an outdoor event that combines a symposium, a non-stop Christmas party, and a “family reunion” rolled into one. Simultaneous discussions, roundtables and demonstrations go on throughout the day. Hobbyists are free to move around, sit and chat with each other, fall asleep in a chair, or listen, learn, and interact with the experts.
As our hobby has grown in terms of technology generally, i.e. DMX, RGB, and pixels, the most knowledgeable volunteers are relied on to help select the curriculum; assist in rounding up the experts to come to Chicago to moderate discussions, present demonstrations or simply to teach. 2012 will be no exception although finalization of the “plan” is still being tweaked.

The Courtyard by Marriott will once again be our host hotel. In February, the best possible group rate was negotiated including a free full hot breakfast. To cover inclement weather, two large conference rooms and the hotel lobby are reserved. They will be set and ready to go if C3 needs to be moved indoors, at no charge of course, at the last minute.

Speaking of charges, budgeting proves “tricky” at best. Arriving at a registration fee to cover meals, beverages, rentals, t-shirts, other goodies and the host of supplies needed is never easy. C3 strives to keep the cost low enough for any hobbyist to attend. To help offset some of the costs, we started contacting vendors in February to purchase logo space on the C3 official t-shirt. Sponsoring vendors this year include, www.Seasonal,,, Ulta Lit Technologies/LightKeeper/LEDKeeper,, Winklebottoms Wireframes,, LOR Partner – Displays in Motion,, and… so far.

Feeding almost 100 people is a joy. It’s also a challenge. Croissants, donuts, pastries, coffee, tea, Chicago deep pan pizzas, burgers, hot dogs, chicken kabobs, pulled pork, ABTs, 6.5 foot long subs, gallons of potato salad, pasta salad, green salads, chips, cookies and homemade cakes are supplied. Washing it all down requires cases of soda, water, and beer. And it all must be kept ice cold. Coolers that hold 150 quarts each are filled with ice and kept covered. The Sansings’ kitchen refrigerator is used for much of the food storage; they eat a lot of take out the week of the event. All non-perishable supplies, plates, knives, forks, spoons, napkins etc. are purchased two weeks out from the event. The hard part is buying the food the week of the event as it’s based on registered head count. To be sure, there’s lots of last minute running around to feed everyone but there are always volunteers willing to help.

Large tents, tables, chairs, coolers, and other necessities are rented and generally delivered two days before the gathering starts. Fortunately, there has never been a shortage of volunteers who arrive in Chicago early to help with physical set-up, run errands, create goodie bags, decorate, and organize the White Elephant Gift Exchange.

Although the bulk of attendees fly in for C3, parking all those rental cars has to be dealt with. There is no on street parking whatsoever at the site. That problem is solved by filling out a battery of forms, obtaining a Certificate of Liability Insurance, and reserving the school parking lot that’s right up the street.

Coordinating all the promotion, educational topics, registrations, facilitators/instructors, vendors, t-shirt creation, menu, food and supply acquisitions, and a million little details can be exhausting. Probably explains why Carrie has said during each C3 “this is the last one!”


This article was included in the July 2012 issue of PlanetChristmas Magazine.

By Carrie Polales Sansing

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