Live nativity shares true meaning of Christmas

Published 11:40 am Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The spirit of Christmas is alive and well at the Farmville Church of Christ. Presented every Christmas season, the church’s live nativity has become a Farmville tradition.

“We’ve been doing this for 15 years now,” pastor Jim Price said. “Although every year we’ve added more, the intent or mission has never really changed.”

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That mission is to share a real-life view of the first Christmas complete with angels, shepherds, wise men and an assortment of animals. The community is invited to drive around the church on Milnwood Road and experience the sights, sounds and smells of that special night in an up-close-and-personal way.

The annual event is held over three nights; this year it was held Dec. 18-20.

“This has always been a community event,” Price said. “We are part of the community, and we feel like we should give something back.”

A production on this scale requires extensive preparation. The church’s pastor compared it to a wedding.

The road to Bethlehem appropriately leads to the church. Pictured in the gate are, from left, church members Steve Allen and Doug Allen and church pastor Rev. Jim Price.

The road to Bethlehem appropriately leads to the church. Pictured in the gate are, from left, church members Steve Allen and Doug Allen and church pastor Rev. Jim Price.

“You spend many days getting ready for a wedding, and then it’s over in a few hours,” he said. “Between costumes, production and construction, our church members spend well over a thousand hours preparing for the production.”

A major attraction of the manger scene is the animals. Retired Extension agent Alvin Thomas is in charge of the flock that includes sheep and lambs, an occasional llama and a donkey.

For many years the cast included a donkey named Blossom who was partial to cookies, especially ginger snaps, that church members provided for the cast.

“Blossom is no longer with us,” Price said. “But we have a member of Blossom’s family carrying on the role.”

For many Farmville families the live nativity is a family tradition. Some visitors go through more than once.

The event attracts such a crowd that traffic control was needed.

“Farmville police help with that,” Price, formerly with the Farmville Police Department, said. “We do pay them — in the past officers would volunteer, but I know could use a little extra for Christmas.”

The Town of Farmville, Price added, has also been extremely helpful to the church as they prepare for the nativity event.

“They provide orange cones for traffic, and if we need some branches trimmed or whatever they help us with that,” Price said.

Price is pleased when he hears comments that the church’s annual nativity has created a special memory for someone.

“Growing up, I had vivid memories of going downtown at Christmas to see the big window displays,” Price said. “I think our nativity makes

good memories for a lot of folks.”

Price, who stands in front of the church during the three-night event, has observed a variety of reactions to the nativity scenes the church works so hard to recreate.

“Listening to the testimonies and comments when I’m standing out there — I hear remarkable stories,” he said.

An unexpected facet of the nativity event has created a small miracle of its own. It has, Price noted, become a symbol of its own reflecting the Christmas spirit year-round.

“We put the Star of David on top of our steeple, and it stays there all year,” Price said. “It didn’t take us long to find out that the crows like to get up there and peck out the lights. Even in June or July I’ve had people to call and tell me the lights in the star are out. That star has become a symbol to this community.”

Christmas spirit that lingers year-round — that is exactly what the church had in mind.

“Now we use that star on our logo and web page,” Price said. “People look for the star.”

In light of current events in the world, the local pastor sees the church’s live nativity as especially relevant.

“I think our world needs to see it,” Price said. “People need hope.”

Price noted that in 15 years, inclement weather cancelled the event only once in 2007.

“We had heavy wind and rain that night, and then a huge wind storm came up on the back of that rain. The entire village looked like a tornado had hit it,” Price said.

Within an hour 60 church members arrived with drills and hammers and put the village back together.

“I had never seen that much work done in an hour,” Price recalled of the 2007 production. “It was like a miracle.”

It is, after all, a live nativity. Miracles are all in a day’s work.