You’d think that if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all – but that certainly does not apply when viewing the nativity scenes set up in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Walkerton. Each year people from all over Ontario and beyond take or send their nativity sets to the church for the non-denominational display which runs for 11 days in November. Participants collect their figurines at the end of the spectacular event and have them back for their own family display before the beginning of December to enjoy in their homes for Advent and over the Christmas season.
That’s the short version. It’s the behind-the-scenes creativity which is so amazing.
It all started with Andy and Holly Puskus, who moved to Paisley from Alberta. They wanted to start something similar to what they had seen back home and began with 34 creche’s on display. The number of nativities loaned for the display continued to increase and the seed was planted. After they returned to Alberta, they decided to skip a year in order to adequately prepare for a display on a much larger scale.
When the assignment was extended to Flora Nabrotzky in February, she knew it would be a mammoth undertaking.
That year, she invited over 125 area churches and schools to take part, but it has since increased to over 165 churches and many schools. Initially it seemed impossible to meet the goal of 1,000 nativities, but a tremendous outpouring of support as they neared opening day proved to be just enough to squeak over the magic number. That first year there were 1003 nativity scenes. The second year, over 2,000. This past season, the sixth year, they logged a total of 3,224.
Collecting of nativities commences in mid October. The staging and set-up takes two and half weeks, working around the clock. There are several teams. The log cutters provide the roomful of stumps and posts for the woodland. A neighbour brings in driftwood, moss, and stones. Others bring a trailer load of branches. Ironing volunteers work in shifts. The fabrics are draped from the ceiling, walls, and shelving, spilling over myriad levels built below. The lighting crew magnificently illuminates all the display areas without the use of overhead room fixtures. Thousands of mini lights are strung. One volunteer comes every year to polish the glass shelves. A carefully chosen group takes on the meticulous job of unpacking (and later packing) the figurines. Scripted parchment name cards acknowledge the contributor of each nativity.
Everything is borrowed, and nobody knows exactly what’s coming in until it arrives, ensuring the display changes every year.
Visitors begin in the Woodland (earthy overtures) and peacefully wind through the path as through the journey of life. There are no formal tours or tour guides. Gracious volunteer hosts quietly assist and provide security. The one-way traffic proceeds along the maze, eventually coming to the international section showcasing creches from over 60 countries around the world. There are many miniatures, one even being the manger scene in a walnut shell. Next is the children’s section.
Because the overall effect must be consistent in style, Flora does take responsibility for that as she designs her way from beginning to end. She hopes all who come will feel and know that God is the designer of this display and that it is inspired.
The colors flow and the fabrics blend from one right into the next, through every view. Everything is artistically arranged so that the eye can sweep from front to back, and, when you turn it all, blends in reverse. You’re not aware of square corners or straight walls. People comment that it “flows.”
For the past five years, Tina Clift with the help of her husband Bruce from Lurgan Beach has designed the “White Room,” a heavenly highlight of the tour.
Everything is done on a volunteer basis with individuals freely giving of their time and support.
The tour begins, and there is exquisite beauty and quiet. People are respectful. Even the school children hush as they come through the door. There is no other way to describe the first-timers’ view, except breathtaking, awesome, stunning, and unbelievable.
No donation box is in sight. Anyone wishing to make a contribution is encouraged to donate privately to a favourite charity. Like all God’s gifts, this display is free for everyone to enjoy. It’s a real tribute to everyone involved that it’s become what it has, because everyone so willingly shares.
Meanwhile the Sacred Heart Secondary School in Walkerton provides its conference room to the congregation to carry on regular services throughout the duration of this display, since every inch of the church building is used for the nativities.
“Take down” starts the day after the tour closes. The same groups work in each section, and everything flows in reverse. Several “all-nighters” are again staged to ensure families get their nativities back within days, in time for their own advent home display.
With such a spectacular display so close at hand in Walkerton – mark your 2011 calendars now. It will be November 10 – 20; weekdays and Sunday 1 – 9 p.m., Saturdays 9 – 9.
You have to see it to believe it.