ARLINGTON — The fourth year of the Nativity Festival at the Arlington Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints showcased more than 500 nativity sets, plus more than 100 works of art in the “Life of Christ” room, between Dec. 12-15.
According to Cyndy Thompson, director of public affairs for the Arlington Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the number of nativity sets was roughly the same as last year’s event, but the event saw a significant increase in the amount of original artwork supplied to the “Life of Christ” room by both church members and their friends.
“This year also showed a substantial increase in guests,” Thompson said. “The music concerts required about 200 extra seats each evening, bringing the total to more than 500 audience members each on the evenings of Saturday and Sunday.”
While the Stanwood High School Jazz Ensemble made its debut at the Nativity Festival on Thursday, Dec. 12, the Children’s Choir performed at the church on Friday, Dec. 13, and Saturday, Dec. 14. Choir concerts followed on the evenings of Dec. 14 and Sunday, Dec. 15.
“The Stanwood High School Jazz Ensemble’s performance brought in our largest attendance ever on a Thursday night,” Thompson said. “I’d estimate that more than 3,000 community members came to view the nativities and enjoy the concerts.”
Many of the nativity sets were created and acquired in other countries, including a nativity made out of bullet shell casings from Liberia, Africa, as well as a corn husk nativity that was bought from a small vendor at a street stall in Slovakia, in Central Europe.
“There was also a Russian nativity, which was bought in Eastern Europe and brought home as carry-on luggage to protect it,” Thompson said. “We had hand-carved nativities from many countries in Africa, and clay nativities from Mexico, Guatemala and Ecuador. Local artist Ted Rumsey made a magnificent hand-carved nativity from cypress knees, which was displayed on a beautiful burl wood stand.”
Thompson expressed her appreciation for the volunteer support the event received this year, which included a group of honor students from Arlington High School who returned several days in a row to place the nativity sets.
“The countless hours of volunteering, from all those who helped set up and take down this event, was staggering,” said Thompson, who likewise touted the event’s photo studio and children’s room, the latter of which was designed to resemble a street in Bethlehem, and both of which proved popular with families. “Many of our guests planned on using the pictures of their families, dressed in nativity costumes, as their Christmas greeting cards.”
Brad Larreau has been bringing his family to the Nativity Festival since it started. While he acknowledged that taking four small children to see an entire room full of nativity sets that they’re not allowed to touch is “a little risky,” he deemed the lessons of the experience to be more than worth it.
“This is what Christmas is all about,” said Larreau, whose favorite part of the event was the “Life of Christ” room, which used artwork to chronicle the Biblical life of Jesus, from his birth in Bethlehem to his death on the cross and eventual resurrection. “It’s a great opportunity for the kids to see and feel the true meaning and roots of the holiday. I can’t walk around here without thinking about our savior, and what he did for us.”
“If there had been no resurrection, there would be no celebration,” said Maggie Olson, a volunteer who staffed the “Life of Christ” room. “There’s only so much room to display all the artwork here, so we choose different pieces each year, depicting different stages of Christ’s journey, because people relate to it in different ways. I can feel the spirit of God in this room,” she added, becoming visibly emotional even as she sought to compose herself.
Olson reported that 50 individual donors contributed one or more pieces of artwork, while an additional 30 supporters provided greenery, lighting, backdrops and overall arrangements.
“The music for this year’s event was spectacular, and the variety of ways that this event brought the presence of Christ into the lives of those who attended was notable,” Thompson said.