Festival of the Nativity
When: 6-9 p.m. Dec. 3-5 and 3-9 p.m. Dec. 6
Where: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1234 Riverside Drive, Gainesville
How much: Free
More info: www.facebook.com/festivalofthenativity
Christmas is celebrated worldwide with different traditions across the globe.
From Prague to Perth, Australia, to Philadelphia, Christians display scenes of the miraculous birth of Jesus Christ in their homes and churches to signify of the meaning of Christmas.
In Gainesville, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints takes that single tradition and increases it to an exponential amount. Church members, also referred to as Mormons, have gathered more than 600 nativity scenes from around the world to display for the community.
This Festival of the Nativity will be open to the public from 6-9 p.m. Dec. 3-5 and 3-9 p.m. Dec. 6 at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1234 Riverside Drive, in Gainesville.
“My wife and I that started this ... we put up a live nativity in our front lawn,” church member George Wangemann said, explaining the origins of the event. “We thought it would be a neat idea to have smaller nativities to be set up on the tables.”
Starting with only 30 nativity sets in the first year, the Festival has grown to 830 in the display two years ago. Nativity sets on display hail from all across the map, including Mexico, Guatemala, Ukraine and France.
“With them getting a lot of news, I would think that would be important,” Wangemann said, referencing the sets from France.
Nativity scenes hailing from Africa and Asia also have made their way to the festival. Some were brought back by members of the congregation after mission trips.
“My favorite nativity is one made out of nails by someone in our church,” Wangemann said.
He said the set is symbolic because it ties the birth of the Christ in Bethlehem child to his death of being nailed to a cross in Jerusalem.
Another special display is made of olive wood from Israel, which is just one of a variety of materials.
In addition to statuette displays, wall hangings and quilts depict the nativity of Christ.
The festival takes two weeks to set up, and four days to break down. The long hours of hard work by volunteers is something Wangemann appreciates.
Live music on Dec. 5 will accompany the display, including vocalists such as the West Hall High School Chorus as well as violinists and a harpist. The church’s bishop Bob Weaver will play the dulcimer with them.
“(The Festival of the Nativity) is a ... unique Christmas event, an open house type event,” Wangemann said. “There is no service to sit through.”
Visitors may enjoy the festival at their own pace and hear the live entertainment as well as partake of light refreshments.
“After all it is a community event,” Wangemann said. “We want everyone to come see it. It is free (and) the hours are flexible.”