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Remembering the reason
Festival of the Nativity keeps Christ in Christmas season
A Peruvian nativity set at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Gainesville. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

The Festival of the Nativity

What: Display of nativity scenes

When: 6-9 p.m. today and Sunday

Where: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1234 Riverside Drive, Gainesville

How much: Free


With more than 600 nativity scenes, holiday music and time for Christmas reflection, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will open its doors this weekend for the community to remember the reason for the season.

This is the sixth year for the Festival of the Nativity at the church. Fellow church member and chairwoman of the festival, Rosie Kirby just wants everyone to come out and enjoy the collection of nativities.

It takes about five days to set up the nativity display and planning for the festival begins in June. Some nativity scenes even come from members of the community that don't attend the church.

"The primary purpose of this is a gift to the community," she said. "It's our way of showing our love for Christ. There are many different (nativities) from different countries ... it started out with one lady that had a vast collection (Barbara Bailes). Since we've gotten involved we have added to our own collections. I had a small one. Now mine is medium size.

"The simple ones to me are really lovely, too."

Kirby has nearly 200 nativity scenes in her personal collection. The most she spent was $100 on one of her favorite nativity scenes, a collectable set from Avon.

The nativities are displayed in the church's gym/fellowship area with Christmas lights and Christmas trees surrounding the nativity scenes, soft holiday music playing and, for this weekend, hot chocolate, cider and homemade baked goods served to guests. There also is a child's nativity room where children can feel and touch the nativity scenes.

The first year for the Festival of the Nativity there were only about 30 nativity scenes. Today the collection includes handmade nativities and sets from countries around the world including France, Israel, Mexico, and the Ukraine, among many other, according to church member and Gainesville City Councilman George Wangemann.

Wangemann's wife Judy, has a large collection herself of about 230 nativities. Some are handmade, purchased new and she's bought some online or at garage sales.

"We have one from when we got married, but we started collection about six years ago," said Judy Wangemann, who just finished her own handmade nativity and hand-painted Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus along with the manger, animals and kings, among other details.

The church expects more than 350 people to attend. This year, the festival can be the final stop after attending Christmas on Green Street on Sunday.

"It's just natural to stop by after Christmas on Green Street. We are open until 9 p.m.," George Wangemann said.

" I think there is a strong message here and that message is that Jesus Christ is the one to build our own foundations upon, family foundations as well as the community foundation, and he's the reason for the season."