Away in a manger,
no crib for a bed,
The little Lord Jesus
laid down his sweet head,
The stars in the bright sky
looked down where he lay,
The little Lord Jesus
asleep on the hay.
Next weekend, the Ocean View Presbyterian Church will open its doors for its annual Nativity Festival — inviting the public to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
The festival was started a few years ago by parishioner Elsie Young, after her sister had attended a similar festival in Pennsylvania.
“She said you ought to do this at your church,” recalled Young. “So, at our church’s Christmas dinner, I said, ‘I have these crèches… I’ll bring them and set them up.’ Well, everyone thought it was such a good idea. From that I said, ‘Well, let’s do it for the community.’”
The Nativity Festival will be held on Saturday, Dec. 10, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the church hall. Those who attend the free festival may enjoy punch and cookies, Christmas carols and 125 crèches on display with each one’s story.
“The first year was all from our church. Then other people asked if they could bring theirs,” said Young. “One lady bought hers… They lived on a houseboat when her children were little. She said, ‘It’s so tiny, but it’s all we could have on the boat.’
“Another man, he told the story that his dad owned a shoe store in the town where they lived. Beside the shoe store there was a 5-and-10. And, when he had 10 cents, he would buy a piece for his nativity, and they actually still have the tags. The camels were 25 cents. One lady brings her Madonna that her priest gave them when they were married.”
Young herself has collected crèches over the years but didn’t grow up with one under her family’s Christmas tree. When she and her husband, George, married, they were given a wooden nativity by her sister, and 58 years later, the crèche is still set up every holiday season.
“My sister lived in a little town… There is a Polish man who would pay the kids to go out after Christmas and collect the old Christmas trees and bring them to him. He would take those old Christmas trees and hand-carve them with a penknife and sell them.”
Another crèche in her home was made by her husband and another by her brother-in-law. She has a small silver one that could fit in the palm of her hand and one carved out of a nut from a palm tree.
Young said that, over the years, the number of crèches has increased, along with the number of people who attend.
“We do this as a gift to the community,” she said, simply. “This is our gift to you, to start the Christmas season.
“It’s universal… They may not all look the same, but the message is the same. I think, for Christians especially, this is the beginning of our year, with the birth that gave us our Christ, which is the basis of our religion. I think because the crèches are so different and unique — everyone has their own idea of what a crèche is — that their unique and interesting. They’re good discussion-starters.”
Young said the church enjoys hosting the festival, to help remind people of the true meaning of Christmas.
“Because we get so busy during the holiday season, it’s important for people to take the time to look at the different crèches… to talk about them. It’s a whole experience and people look forward to it.”
The church has a guestbook in which they invite attendees to share their names and thoughts:
“I’m so grateful you shared the display. What a way to start the Christmas season.”
“No one could attend and not smile.”
“What a wonderful way to celebrate the birth of our Savior.”
While Young hasn’t attended any other nativity festivals, she is happy Ocean View Presbyterian is able to share their Christmas spirit with the community.
“There are a lot of parts of the church that become part of this festival — the women make the cookies, somebody makes the punches, somebody greets… There are a lot of aspects. It takes everybody; it takes a village.
“You can’t do it justice by talking about it. There’s nothing else like it around. People look forward to it as part of the preparation for Christmas. That’s kind of a neat thing a neat thing.”
Ocean View Presbyterian Church is located at 67 Central Avenue in Ocean View. For more information, call (302) 539-3455.