Over 1,500 people, two days, hundreds of nativity sets, choirs from over a dozen different faiths and schools, a handful of sometimes fussy babies with their parents for the live nativity, thousands of cookies and desserts and many, many hours of preparation went into making the 10th annual Community Nativity Festival the best one yet.
Held at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Pauba Road in Temecula on December 14th and 15th, the Nativity Festival has become a tradition for many families in the Temecula Valley. As one choir director, Rhonda Parrish, commented, “For us, this is the highlight to our Christmas season.”
Parrish is the director of three choirs from St. Martha’s Catholic Church. Her children’s choir, “The Candycanes," the youth choir, “The Winterberries,” and adult choir performed separately, as well as a group.
The Temecula stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began holding a Nativity Festival 10 years ago in an effort to celebrate and share the Christmas spirit with the community. While the LDS Church hosts the event, it is with the cooperation of many individuals from throughout the community that the festival is made possible.
The event, which attracts all walks of life from city officials to young families with little children is held each year on the second weekend in December. Dozens of volunteers transform the church building into a trip back in time to 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem. Actors portraying Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, and shepherds set the tone for the festival while music fills the arena.
Each year, event coordinators make some changes to enhance the experience. This year, the live nativity was presented all together in one area so that every attendee, upon walking into the building, had the opportunity to participate in that experience. The entire ceiling of the cultural hall of the church building was draped with white cloth and lights, providing a beautiful backdrop for the nearly 400 nativity sets from all over the world.
Another addition this year was a photo opportunity. Families and individuals could sit on a couch surrounded by Christmas decorations and have their picture taken as a souvenir from the event.
The highlight of the festival was the various choirs that came to perform. Individuals crowded into the pews while others stood in the back of the room to see and hear singers of all ages perform, some after many weeks of practice and preparation. Following a moving rendition of “There is Music in the Air” by the St. Martha’s Catholic Church Choirs, the announcer for the evening, Shari Crall, pointed out, “That was a Baptist song, sung by a Catholic choir in a Mormon church.”
Ultimately, the festival was a celebration of Christmas and community, different faiths coming together to share in the festivities of the season. --Juliet Clawson