Catholic Herald staff
“We could not go through Christmas at church without the children having some sort of opportunity to share and bring to life the inspiration of Jesus’ birth,” Amery resident Julie Novak said.
Novak, a parishioner at St. John’s Church in Clear Lake, helps to organize the parish’s annual nativity program with traditional Christmas carols. As with so many other celebrations in 2020, the event was canceled due to COVID-19.
“An endearing and moving tradition” for the parish family, Novak came up with an alternative – a live nativity.
The idea came from Novak’s having taken her own children to one such event put on by the local FFA group. A fellow catechist shared the contact of someone who had also organized a live nativity.
“Despite being a little uncertain about all the planning, and if people would be willing to participate, I kept feeling that God was nudging me to go forward with the plan,” she said.
Novak admitted feeling somewhat apprehensive about the project, given concerns of the pandemic, but kept praying “that this modest portrayal of the birth of Jesus might be a light to anyone willing to come witness it.”
Although Novak saw “some amazing ideas,” from the get-go, she decided to keep it simple, as she was organizing it with only parish families as volunteers.
As well, “keeping it simple just seemed fitting with this season of cancellation,” she said. “We will not be dazzling people with a perfect nativity scene, but planned to humbly bring the simplicity of Jesus’ birth to life.”
Looking for a convenient location that would be easy to set up and keep people moving, Novak worked with fellow parish members Doug and Bobbi Swanson, who offered their Clear Lake farm. Three stations were set up to help spread out volunteers and visitors.
A plan was put together that included a prayer station where attendees would be given the St. Andrew Christmas prayer to pray before a manger scene. Once there was space, that group of persons would be invited to move to the nativity scene itself and pray, after which they would be guided to the third station for hot cider and a baked treat.
In order to quell concerns parents might have of children sharing costumes, Novak was able to gather enough costumes to have multiples of the same role. The animals differed through the presentation’s shifts, but the primary biblical characters were represented.
Lastly, as the living nativity was not designed to be a social gathering, rather a modest witness and opportunity to experience “that night Jesus was born, and pray before our Savior,” Novak felt it very important to have music.
An inspiring playlist was put together by a volunteer and played in the background throughout the event.
After reflecting on that first manger scene, Novak said she hoped visitors would take the inspiration home with them as they prepared to celebrate the Christmas season.