Catch a glimpse into the life of Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, at the annual Living Nativity production that starts Dec. 14 at the Cathedral of Joy in Richland.
For the past 30 years, volunteers at the church have put on play depicting the events leading up to the birth of Jesus followed by an outdoor Nativity scene, complete with shepherds watching over their sheep, Roman soldiers on horseback, angels on high (platforms) and the three wise men following the bright star to the newborn king.
There are lots of live animals -- sheep, horses, mules, donkeys and even camels.
"There's actually someone in Spokane who raises camels," said longtime Living Nativity volunteer Ken Olsen. "I personally, don't want to have anything to do with them. They're very difficult animals, about five times more stubborn than horses or mules. And we dress them in robes and bells, which they don't like at all."
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It takes more than 100 actors, plus volunteers, to put on the annual production.
"It's a joke at church that no matter how early we begin rehearsing and how many people we have directing, that it seems it's not coming together and then, suddenly, it does. It's amazing," Olsen said.
The production is in two parts. The first, indoors in the church gym, is a play showing the events leading up to the birth of Jesus. It lasts about 30 minutes.
"This part changes a bit every year. Our pastors write a kind of modern day interpretation of what it was like to be a part of the times and life of Christ's birth," Olsen said.
Then everyone moves outdoors for the Living Nativity.
"We have bleachers for seating, but people need to dress warmly for the weather," he said.
The entire production is handicap accessible. Anyone needing additional assistance getting from the parking lot to the production just needs to tell a parking lot attendant.
Olsen, who's helped with the annual production since he was a child portraying a shepherd -- wearing a new bathrobe each year -- said he's always moved at how much people are affected by the story of Christ's birth.
"It doesn't matter if they're young or old, or have any kind of belief or nonbelief. I've witnessed it myself over the years how it touches their hearts. I've seen tears in the eyes of grandmoms and grandchildren and all in between," he said.
One thing he's noticed in recent years is how many Hispanics come to the Cathedral of Joy's Living Nativity.
"They usually come in big groups and indicate they don't know much English, but the story is so universal, especially the outdoor Nativity -- they seem to really enjoy it," Olsen said.
Performances of the Living Nativity are at 6 and 7:15 p.m. Dec. 14 and 19-20 and at 5:30 p.m., 6:45 p.m. and 8 p.m. Dec. 15 and 21-23.
Tickets cost $10 for adults and $5 for children ages 5 to 12. Kids 4 years and under are free. Tickets are sold at cojchurch.org, the Kennewick Ranch & Home on Columbia Center Boulevard and Albertsons at Gage Boulevard and Leslie Road.
*Loretto J. Hulse: 582-1513; email@example.com