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It's alive ... and spreading Christmas cheer
First Baptist Churchs Living Christmas Tree ceremony fills holiday with song, spirit
Singers perform during the Living Christmas Tree ceremony Friday night at First Baptist Church in Gainesville. The annual performances continue tonight and Sunday. - photo by Tom Reed

First Baptist Church's Living Tree Ceremony

When: 6 p.m. today, 4:30 and 7 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: Free

More information: 770-534-7354

Christmas trees can be real, fake, elaborate or sparse. Not many, though, can sing.

For 11 years, First Baptist Church in Gainesville has wowed North Georgia with its Living Christmas Tree ceremony, shining a new light onto the idea of a traditional Christmas tree.

"(Thursday) night's service was our 50th presentation of the Living Christmas Tree," the Rev. Mark Green said. "This year's theme is ‘Night of Wonder.'"

Green, the associate pastor of music at First Baptist Church, is in charge of the event.

"Our Living Christmas Tree Choir consists of 104 singers who have been rehearsing these songs since mid-September," he said. "They sing every song by memory, enabling us to choreograph the lighting on the tree to correspond to the message and mood of each song."

A 29-piece orchestra, directed by Steve Coldiron, will accompany the choir and includes members from all over North Georgia.

"Our goal is to remind people of the prophecy of the coming of the Messiah and to celebrate God's revealing himself to us through the birth, the life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ," Green said.

The service incorporates a live nativity. Mary is portrayed by Meredith Kurtzahn and her son, born in October, is baby Jesus.

"The program goes from the cradle to the cross to remember the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross to pay the penalty of our sins, so we may have assurance of salvation by placing our trust in him and enjoying a daily relationship with Jesus Christ," Green said. "Through this program, we want to bring honor and glory to God for the most precious gift he's offered us in Christ."

The Living Tree consists of 10 tiers and is approximately 30 feet high. It is built into FBC's choir loft.

"Eighty-six singers will sing from the tree dressed in smocks and collars that become part of the decoration of the tree," Green said. "An additional 29 singers will sing from the stage or side risers in festive attire."

Though the tradition of the Living Christmas Tree has continued for over a decade, senior pastor Dr. Bill Coates believes it never gets old.

"Every year, the program is different," he said. "Even if you have been before, you'll hear something different this year than you did last."

Almost 8,000 people come from all over to see the living tree. Even if you're not religious, Dr. Coates would love for you to come and enjoy the splendor of Christmas spirit.

"We have two goals with this program," Coates said. "First, it's our way of saying we'd like to celebrate by giving you something to help your Christmas spirit - it is a gift to the community. Second, we want the message of the Gospel to be very clear."

Tickets to FBC's Living Tree ceremony are free, but they're going fast; the first ticket requests came in over two months ago.

"We start building the tree the Sunday after Thanksgiving. There are probably 400 people that go into putting this on every year," Coates said. "It's a labor of love, but we enjoy every minute of it."

Thursday's opening night of the The Living Christmas Tree ceremony drew more than 1,200 people. It runs through tomorrow night.

"Our first night went so smoothly; the sanctuary was packed and the music was beautiful," Coates said. "It was a fantastic start."

Though Christmas came fast this year - let's face it, it comes fast every year - this program will surely put you into the Christmas spirit.

"To me, Christmas is the great truth that is so elegantly proclaimed that we don't have to go looking for God; God has already looked and found us," Coates said. "It's the greatest truth in the world that he loves us so much to give us everlasting life with him."

The Living Christmas Tree ceremony aims to inspire, entertain and uplift all who come to enjoy it.

"If you're not in the Christmas spirit, and you want to be in the Christmas spirit; if you'll come to one of these performances, I can almost guarantee you that Christmas will become very real to you," Coates said. "If it doesn't, you're a real Scrooge."