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Local LDS church shows off hundreds of nativity displays
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Riverside Drive is presenting its fourth annual Festival of the Nativity, featuring more than 500 nativity scenes on display.

Festival of the Nativity
What: More than 500 nativities on display
When: 6-9 p.m. today and Sunday
Where: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1234 Riverside Drive, Gainesville
Contact: 770-561-3060

Nativity scenes can be found all around the world but each scene is unique to its culture.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Gainesville is helping the community get into the holiday spirit and celebrate diversity this weekend with a display of more than 500 nativity scenes.

The Festival of the Nativity, which includes refreshments, indoor crèches, a nativity outside made up of real people, is free and open to the public from 6-9 p.m today and Sunday.

This is the fourth year for the festival, which has grown from only having 30 crèches its first year.

Many people came together to help make this year’s event the biggest one yet. A youth group helped put together Christmas trees and risers for the nativities. "We all work together and it comes together in a nice way," said George Wangemann, a member of the church who is in charge of publicity and security for the three-day event.

Wangemann realizes that this has been a difficult year for many people because of the current economic situation.

"What we want to convey is that Christmas has much more meaning when Jesus Christ is placed back into Christmas," Wangemann said. "That’s what this whole thing is all about; it is Christ-centered."

Seeing all of the Christmas lights and displays can make kids’ faces light up. That makes Wangemann feel pleased with his church’s accomplishment.

"Children understand more than we give them credit for understanding," Wangemann said. "And when a child sees what the real meaning of Christmas is, that becomes etched upon his heart, and he will remember that for many years to come."

Laura Howington, a member of the Riverside Drive church, was chosen to portray Mary in the live nativity scene. She said it is a humbling experience to portray the mother of Jesus.

"Mary was such a righteous and pure woman," Howington said. "She lived her life faithfully, accepting her life’s mission from the angel Gabriel to bring forth the most holy child, Jesus Christ."

Howington chose to participate in the event because she loves Christmas and thought it would be a touching experience. She believes that the nativity is a great family event because "the birth of Christ is a reminder to all Christians and non-Christians alike of why we celebrate Christmas."

"It is a good teaching experience for children, and people of all ages can enjoy it," Howington said. "Everyone can enjoy the beauty of one family’s strong faith and the pure joy it gave to the world."