IF it’s just beginning to look a lot like Christmas, then it must be time for the critters to take their places alongside Mary, Joseph and the Christ child in the Columbus area when area churches put on their living natvities.
Now through Dec. 24, furry friends will help three local churches help the ages-old scene come to life with the sights and sounds of a real stable.
At St. Peter Lutheran Church in Waymansville, more than 600 people — twice the church’s membership — showed up last year for the outdoor display of the birth of the Christ child. Organizers expect more this year.
“It fills me with awe when I look at the scene,” volunteer Margie Trimpe said. “And that’s despite the fact that I’ve worked on this beforehand. It still mesmerizes me.”
The setting features two campfires, a real camel, sheep, donkeys, llamas, alpacas and ponies. Visiting children also can be dressed in robes as kings or angels and have a free, keepsake souvenir picture taken.
It brings a feeling of warmth for many, no matter what temperature it might be in the facsimile Bethlehem village.
One impressed family told St. Peter organizers a couple of years ago that visiting the live Nativity would become a family tradition.
When weather permits, Bethel Baptist Church in Garden City has snuggled a real baby in Mary’s arms, said the church’s Kathi Whipker. She says that the nativity scene offers viewers a quiet respite.
“It’s maybe a half-hour to stop and be still amid the craziness of the Christmas season,” Whipker said.
Most motorists passing Bethel simply pull their car to the shoulder of Deaver Road and sit. But some come inside for coffee or hot chocolate.
At Community Church of Columbus, Boy Scout Troop 588 has presented a live nativity for several years at the corner of Marr and Rocky Ford roads. Sometimes, motorists honk as they pass. Other times, they have stopped and walked respectfully up to the scene.
Last year, as visitors walked on a luminary-lined path toward an artsy, tree-branch manger, robed troop members portraying shepherds interacted with them convincingly.
“Have you heard the news?” they asked.
Church member Janice Kotnik, whose son Tom portrayed Joseph, noticed that youngsters especially paid attention to the display, even on a cold, rainy night.
Perhaps the most popular live nativity here in decades was a part of First Christian Church’s “A First Christmas.” It featured an elaborate production that included bits of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and a re-creation of bustling biblical-era Bethlehem shops along with a peaceful manger scene with live animals nearby.
The ticketed-but-free event drew about 9,000 people annually until it was discontinued in 2005, when the church chose to divert its financial investment into community outreach.
St. Peter Lutheran’s Trimpe understands the draw of the old-fashioned scenes, though, even for adults.
“You feel like a kid again,” she said.
St. Peter Lutheran Church in Waymansville, 11750 W. County Road 930S, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Nov. 30 and noon to 4 p.m. Dec. 1.
Bethel Baptist Church, 142 Deaver Road, 6 to 8 p.m. Dec. 15.
Community Church of Columbus, 3850 N. Marr Road, 5 to 8:30 p.m. Dec. 22 to 24.