Gainesville Nativity Celebration
When: 3-9 p.m. today and Sunday
Where: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 1234 Riverside Drive, Gainesville
How much: Free
A Gainesville church is opening its doors to celebrate the reason behind the Christmas season this weekend.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Gainesville is holding its eighth annual Gainesville Nativity Celebration. The celebration continues from 3-9 p.m. today and Sunday.
Several choirs and individuals will perform. A children’s nativity room features toy nativity sets for small children to play with. Refreshments will be served.
The event has grown substantially since its first year when 30 nativities were on display. This year there are nearly 800 such scenes from around the world arranged inside of the church. Some 2,000 people are expected to attend over four days.
“One of most important goals we have for the event is to keep Christ in Christmas and to keep Christ in the hearts and minds and of individuals in the community,” said church member and Gainesville councilman George Wangemann.
Rosie Kirby and Judy Wangemann, co-chairwomen of the event, provide nearly 300 nativities each. Many of the others are loaned to the church by local residents.
Several of the nativities are handmade. One nativity, created from nails, was created by a church member. A large nativity scene outside of the church and several of the wall hangings inside the church were created by Judy Wangemann.
The displays take several days to arrange but that is part of the fun.
“It gets you in a good Christmas spirit. I like seeing the different (nativities) and how all the different countries portray the nativity,” Judy Wangemann said.
Many of the nativities from foreign countries hold cultural clues about their place of origin. A creche from Kenya showcases a crocodile while a Russian set of figurines is made of nesting dolls.
Judy Blecha of Gainesville, attending Thursday for the first time, said she was impressed by the number of nativities and the care that went into displaying them.
“It’s even nicer than I thought it was going to be and I love nativity sets. It’s all in the way they have these beautiful scenes displayed,” Blecha said.
George Wangemann said the event is the church’s gift to the community, providing everyone, regardless of church affiliation, a chance to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. He said the event is also an opportunity to show the community they’re “mainstream Christians.”
“A lot of people don’t think that we believe in Jesus Christ, but nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “The name of our church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. ... He’s the center of our religion and the head of our church.”
The event is a way for the community to enjoy the “reason for the season.”
“I think the world has kind of gotten off track spiritually and our hope is this will help refocus our thoughts and our attitudes back on the savior at Christmas time,” George Wangemann said. “Because if there were no savior, there would be no Christmas. There would be no holiday. It’s all about him.”