For the past seven years, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Olathe has had a special way of ringing in the Christmas season: a live Nativity, accompanied by hundreds of table-top Nativity sets.
Last weekend, the church held their annual event, and organizers estimated that a few thousand people attended over the three days of the event. The live Nativity, presented Friday and Saturday, featured a real family as Mary, Joseph and Jesus.
“We always find a couple who’s had a baby in the last few months,” said event co-chairwoman Karin Thomas.
Another family provides live cows and goats for the Nativity. Next year, Thomas hopes they’ll be able to have a real camel as well. People who attended the event were allowed to pet the animals in the display.
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Thomas said the church would like to have wider participation from the community in this event. This year’s festivities included an appearance by the Church of the Resurrection’s Sonflower Ringers handbell performance group.
The Kansas Bronze Bell Choir also played music, and a volunteer orchestra and choir presented a multimedia performance chronicling the story of the birth of Jesus.
Volunteering is a key part of the event, since no one at the church gets paid to organize it. Thomas said that about 150 volunteers made the weekend possible. Tasks included decorating the main room with lights, trees and about 250 tabletop Nativity sets; organizing refreshments; providing 24-hour security from Thursday to Sunday for the building and more.
Decorations outside featured the traditional manger set for the live Nativity display. The smaller sets inside come from many members of the church, who lend them for the weekend. Thomas hopes that in the future, people from outside the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will bring their sets to be part of the event.
Cindy Michie, another co-chairwoman of the event, got the idea for the whole thing from the church she attended when she lived in Michigan.
It was so much fun, she said, that she wanted to make it happen here as well.
Michie said that many people who aren’t members of the church attend the display year after year.
“My favorite part is seeing how other people see the Nativity,” Michie said.
Each year, there are themes for the Nativity sets displayed. This year included African sets, glass or crystal sets and wood and clay ones. There were even some in the form of snow globes.
Michie especially liked the transformative quality of one that was made of bullet shell casings found in Liberia.
Church member Margie Ranzenberger brought her daughters Makena, 9, and Brinlee, 7, to see the display Sunday night.
“I love that there’s so much diversity through all the different types (of Nativity sets). Corn husks (as a material for a set) — who would think of that?” she said.
For Katee Smith and her 7-month-old daughter Violet, also church members, it was a special night.
“I think it’s amazing. It really brings the spirit of Christmas. It’s a good start to the season,” Smith said. “I love that they’re featuring Africa this year.”