When a multitude of heavenly angels appeared to shepherds near Jerusalem, they proclaimed: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2: 14).
It is in this same spirit that the Lethbridge Alberta East Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints presents its annual Live Nativity on the evenings of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of December 22, 23, and 24, 2017 from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. This is their gift of “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” (Luke 2: 10). For thousands of community residents living in and around Lethbridge, Alberta this Nativity re-enactment has become a favourite annual Christmas tradition.
The Lethbridge Nativity is a free community event that takes place on the outside grounds of the Lethbridge East Stake Centre located at 43rd Street and Forestry Avenue South. Approximately 400 audience members can be hosted. Five bleachers can seat about 350 people, and a few more can be accommodated on the grassy areas by the bleachers.
Each presentation lasts about 20 minutes, depending on the time needed to seat the crowd. Usually, up to six performances take place each night. The roped-off stage area stretches across the entire front of the church entry. Each night, rotating casts of about 30 actors wear a full complement of costumes and employ a variety of props such as canes and shepherd’s crooks. Live animals also appear with the actors. One of the favourites is the donkey—Chico: generously provided by Janet Row of Thistledown Donkeys. Sheep are stabled in a clearing near bushes at one corner of the stake centre. Pre-recorded music by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir accompanies the taped narration as performers act out the words. The Nativity begins by portraying Joseph and Mary’s entry into Bethlehem. They searched for a place to stay at local inns but could only find respite in a manger.
After angels inform shepherds that the baby Jesus has been born, the journey of the shepherds to the manger is portrayed.
Once they arrive at the manger where Mary and Joseph are, these faithful shepherds lovingly adore and worship their newborn Saviour.
Next, the visitation of “wise men from the east” (Matthew 2: 1) is depicted. They present to their newborn King gifts of “gold, and frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2: 11). The ending scene culminates with the tableau of Mary and Joseph along with both the humble shepherds and wealthy wise men adoring the baby Jesus under the divine illumination of a star that “stood over where the child was” (Matthew 2: 10).
Karolyn Harker is serving as the 2017 director, while Delton and Mary Lou Herget handle numerous jobs as producers. Ed Frache manages the sound system; Justin Quinton is in charge of lighting; Liz Wilson takes care of costumes; Lora Thomas is in charge of make-up; Linda Cook and Arlene Litchfield handle publicity; Florian Cook is the animal handler; Tom Bettger serves as the construction manager; and Paul Ciesla built the display of figurines.
In 2017 members in the Forestry Ward will be the actors in the Nativity as they take their turn in the rotation, which includes all the wards in the East Stake. In 2018 the next ward on the list will provide the actors while the production committee will remain the same for three years. This allows for many members in the stake to take part while also making sure that no single ward has to manage all of the production responsibilities each year. Staging all three days of production involves over 100 volunteers. The array and commitment of volunteers who help out is remarkable.
The first Latter-day Saint Live Nativity in Lethbridge started in 1986. Carol Laycock initiated the idea and was the first director; Maurene Wilson was in charge of costumes; Lance Meeks did the lighting. The Third Ward staged the Nativity for 10 years. In 1996, President L. Mark Evans directed that the production of the Nativity become a stake activity. The 2017 presentation marks the 32nd year for this Lethbridge Christmas tradition.
The primary purpose of the Live Nativity is to help everyone who participates or attends to understand the meaning of Godly love. Heavenly Father’s love is demonstrated through the birth and mission of Jesus Christ. As the Apostle John surmised: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4: 10-11).