Max Denning

After a one-year hiatus, the La Grande Living Nativity will once again take place at the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

This weekend’s living nativity will be the 12th time the church has hosted it in the last 13 years. Prior to last year, the church had put on the event for 11 years in a row, but due to family commitments, the person in charge of the re-creation was unable to organize it in 2017. This spring, the church looked for a new organizer and Jack St. Clair, a deacon at the church, stepped up to the plate.

St. Clair has been attending the Adventist Church for more than three decades and has volunteered at the living nativity for several years.

“We were meeting in the spring and somebody asked, ‘Can somebody organize Living Nativity this year?’” St. Clair said. “Everybody was looking at one another, and I just raised my hand.”

The La Grande Living Nativity is unlike many nativity re-enactments. Instead of just the traditional scene of Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus in a manger, the La Grande Living Nativity re-creates the small village of Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, with a number of volunteers portraying historic merchants and other staples of Bethlehem. These portrayals include representations of a baker, a chandler, a potter, woodworkers and even a Jewish synagogue. In total, there will be 13 booths, which are worked by volunteers from the local Seventh-day Adventist Church as well as a from several other churches in La Grande.

“We’ll even have innkeepers wandering around saying, ‘Sorry, there’s no room in the inn,’” St. Clair said.

While other living nativities are often silent affairs, the La Grande Living Nativity is an interactive experience. Attendees are encouraged to speak to the merchants and individuals portraying different aspects of life in Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth.

“We just want people to wander through, listen to the live music and maybe have a cookie,” St. Clair said.

The first known nativity was staged by St. Francis of Assisi in the year 1223 in a cave in the Italian village of Grecio, according to Smithsonian magazine. Nativity scenes differ from country to country, but ones with similar depictions of the entire village of Bethlehem can often be found in Southern Italy.

Even with all of the extra pageantry and a re-enactment of a long-ago Bethlehem, the La Grande Living Nativity will also include a re-creation of the traditional nativity scene, with a baby Jesus, Joseph, Mary, wisemen and shepherds.

In the past, the cast of the La Grande Christmas event featured Clyde the camel, which was brought to the event from Boise, Idaho.

Sadly, because of the uncertainty of whether the church would be having a living nativity this year, the organizers were unable to reserve him in time. St. Clair said he hopes the camel will return in future years.

Overall, St. Clair said he hopes the event, which has attracted more than 2,000 people in the past, sparks a dialogue between church
goers and non-church goers.

“We hope it’s more than entertainment,” St. Clair said. “We hope that it’s a reminder for the reason for the season.”

The La Grande Living Nativity will be open from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Dec. 14 and 15 at the La Grande Seventh-day Adventist Church, 2702 Adams Ave.