Sharon Evans, Susan Davis and Sherry Stewart selling advanced armbands for students outside of church garage in 1989.

Nativity Catholic’s Novemberfest will celebrate five decades of festival fun when it returns from Thursday, November 21 to Sunday, November 24. Following the Florida State Fair and Strawberry Festival, Novemberfest is the third largest annual carnival in Hillsborough County.

More than just a time-honored tradition, Novemberfest is Nativity’s largest fundraiser supporting its school and faith formation program. The family-fun attracts about 100,000 people each year and is put on by its parish volunteers.

Sherry Stewart, a longtime parishioner of Nativity, has been helping with Novemberfest for 40 years. Stewart volunteers as the food chairman managing the 15 different vendors in the food tent.

“Years ago, my boys were going to school here, and I wanted to get involved and contribute to my parish,” explained Stewart. “We (Nativity) used to have a festival twice a year, one in the spring and one in the fall, but in the mid-80s, we switched to one big festival because we wanted to make it larger scale by adding carnival rides.”

Richard Boot, a Brandon resident, is credited for naming Novemberfest. The late Monsignor Lara, Nativity’s priest at the time, commissioned the parishioners to come up with a name for the festival.

Boot said, “My name, Novemberfest, was picked, and I got free parking in front of the church for six months.” He jokingly added, “It’s too bad that I was usually late to church to find someone already parked there.”

The fest will take place on the church grounds on Thursday from 4-10 p.m., Friday from 4 p.m.-12 Midnight, Saturday from 11 a.m.-12 Midnight and Sunday from 12 Noon-10 p.m. This year’s Alumni Day will be held on Sunday along with Appreciation Day for the military, law enforcement and first responders.

Admission, parking and entertainment are all free. Crowd favorite Soul Circus Cowboy will perform Friday at 8:30 p.m. The country rock band’s lead singer, Billy McKnight, is an alumnus of Nativity Catholic School. Also back this year is Classix, who will take ‘Center Stage’ on Saturday at 8:30 p.m.

Paying homage to Novemberfest’s 50th anniversary, midway rides will include the Zipper, which recently celebrated 50 years. Unlimited ride armbands are $23 during the event. You can purchase discounted ride armbands ahead of time from Nativity students. Additionally, Sunday’s Appreciation Day, honoring the military, law enforcement and first responders, will offer discounted ride armbands to those with proper identification.

New this year is ‘Money Mania.’ Instead of only one grand prize cash winner, raffles will be held throughout the event. The cash prizes are in the amounts of $2,500, $1,000, $750, $500 and $250 with the grand prize of $5,000 announced on Sunday.

Stewart also shared that Shells, a local seafood restaurant, is joining this year’s food tent. From traditional hamburgers to scratch-made Polish cooking, each year, fest-goers look forward to the variety and quality of the different food booths.

“I have 15 different food booths. Over the years, you build relationships, and that’s why I continue to volunteer each year. What better place can you help build your church than with your community?” said Stewart.

Alexis Redig, Nativity’s faith and media coordinator, said, “It never ceases to amaze me how much love for Novemberfest our surrounding community has.”

Redig continued, “Seeing the greater impact this family-friendly and fun event has on the community is awesome and drives our staff and volunteers to continue to improve the Novemberfest experience year after year.”

More details on the entertainment and the fest schedule can be found at www.nativitycatholicchurch.org/novemberfest. Nativity Catholic Church and School are located at 705 E. Brandon Blvd. in Brandon. For the latest information, search Novemberfest on Facebook.