The Community Nativity Festival in Huntersville is preparing for its seventh annual event, a family-friendly, nondenominational gathering that will feature more than 400 nativity sets from about 100 countries.
The festival, which runs Dec. 4-6, also will feature children’s activities, live Christmas music and photo opportunities.
Nativities from various regions and countries reflect the cultures, economies, various religious traditions and environments of those places. For example, last year nativity scenes were crafted out of coconuts. One was from the Philippines and the other from Hawaii. The sets range in price and size; some are as tiny as a nutshell.
“It’s the same holy family but depicted in such different ways,” said Sharon Wilson, chairperson of the Community Nativity Festival committee.
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“I have one from Alaska where the animals depicted are polar bears and seals.”
Other examples of unique nativities the festival has featured include one from the United States in 1930s Depression era, one from 1940s Nazi Germany and a Lenox fine porcelain nativity.
Organizers said children usually especially enjoy the nativity from Yellowstone National Park, in which all the characters are represented by bears, and character nativities such as a Charlie Brown set.
Chairwoman of the festival committee for the its first six years, Patti Hosford, said the idea for a nativity festival began with a conversation about how sad she thought the commercialization of Christmas was. She had been to nativity festivals in the past and thought it would be a good way to remember the reason for the season.
“We decided to start with however many we could get and have our first nativity festival,” said Hosford.
“The first was in 2008 and opened that year with about 350 nativity sets. It’s amazing how many people collect them and are willing to share them.”
She estimates that in the first year, about as many people came as there were nativity sets. However, it has since grown to more than 1,000 attendees.
When the festival began, two church congregations participated, providing nativities to display. That number has since risen to nine. However, the event is intended for the greater community and not just for the participating churches.
“We don’t count (visitors), we just have to estimate, but now I think we have about 1,000 or so from the community, and 500 or so from the congregations visit,” said Hosford.
“It grows each year in the number of people that come, the number of activities we have, the number of nativities, the amount of art depicting Christ, the number of community members who participate.”
Attendees of the festival often tell organizers that it is what kicks off their holiday season and really reminds them of the meaning of Christmas.
Wilson said, “The festival is really what gets me in the mood for Christmas.”
Though the hundreds of nativity scenes are the main attraction, the festival will also offer a variety of other activities and displays.
Children can participate in a scavenger hunt involving the nativities and can spend time in the children’s craft room, where about 10 crafts will be featured throughout the three evenings of the festival.
There is also a reading room set up for visitors and a display of art depicting the life of Jesus, from infancy through adulthood.
Another area is decorated to become “Bethlehem,” and about 85 costumes are on hand for visitors to dress up in and take pictures with family and friends in the nativity scene.
“I love watching the children dress up in costume,” Hosford said. “We might have three Marys in a scene because all the little girls want to be Mary. … It’s a magical night for children.”
A variety of choirs and small groups will perform music throughout the evenings of the festival from 6 to 8:30 p.m.
“It’s great because we have all these schools right in that area – Hough High, Bailey Middle, Grand Oaks Elementary and Thunderbird Prep. All of those choirs are coming to perform at the festival on various nights,” said Wilson.