SEVILLE — Temperatures hovered just below freezing and electric stars illuminated the December night as members of New Hope Christian Church took their places in a living nativity along a downtown sidewalk. The sweet-smelling straw in the stable was dusted with fresh snow, like powdered sugar on Christmas cookies.
Ask her how long she’s played the part of Mary, and 86-year-old Mary Holloway has a ready answer.
“All my life,” she said, seated on a bale of straw and bundled against the cold with a scarf and several layers of clothes under her costume.
Judy Meade and dog Daisy, clockwise from far right, Sarah Wallon, Cheryl Wallon and Savannah Wallon view the living nativity in Seville. Participants from left are Richard Meade, Linda Walters, James Dorn, Mary Holloway, Terry Walters and Ermal Allen. (John Gladden / Gazette)
That’s the secret to keeping warm: Clothing. Lots of it.
“You just layer it on until you can’t walk,” Holloway said with a twinkle.
Hot chocolate helps, too, said evangelist Ermal Allen, appropriately dressed as a shepherd. When participants need a break from the winter chill during the three-hour presentation, they can go inside the Seville Inn, where the New Hope congregation meets, to warm up with a cup of coffee or hot soup.
“We don’t let anybody get uncomfortably cold,” he said.
And yes, there’s plenty of room for them in the Inn. The living nativity is a way to bring the message of Christmas outside the building’s walls for all to see along West Main Street, which runs just a few feet away from the nativity.
“In a time when the holidays are so commercial, it’s nice to be able to remind people what it’s all about,” said Richard Meade, portraying one of the Wise Men.
Joining Meade, Holloway and Allen in the stable were Wise Man Terry Walters, angel Linda Walters and James Dorn portraying Joseph. In the manger, a doll represented baby Jesus.
“No crying he makes,” said Allen, quoting a line from the hymn “Away in a Manger.”
A little humor helps keep participants warm, too.
Once, someone looked down and noticed a drill in the manger with the baby Jesus. Apparently it had been left there in the straw after church members assembled the stable.
“I said: ‘Well, you can tell this kid was born into a carpenter’s family!’ ” recalled Allen.
This marks the fifth year the nondenominational church has presented the living nativity, which had been a Christmas tradition at previous churches Allen and his wife Eva served. So, they decided to organize one when they came to Seville. This year’s live nativity will be presented tonight 6 to 9.
“Our primary goal is simply to honor the birth of Christ,” Allen said.
And passers-by respond. Motorists often slow down to look and wave or beep their horns. A woman in a sport utility vehicle rolled down her window.
“Merry Christmas!” she shouted.
Some do double-takes, Allen said. You can see them mouth the words: “They’re real!”
Then you can almost hear someone else in the car saying, “Nah, they can’t be real,” he added with a laugh. “They wouldn’t stand out in the cold like that!”
A few get out of their cars and walk up to the nativity scene. It’s fun to see little children point out to their parents who’s who in the Christmas story, said Allen. One boy, about 12 years old, visited the nativity, then returned with some money he had earned. He asked the church to give it to a needy family.
“We said we’d be glad to do that,” recalled Allen.
On a recent night, Seville resident Cheryl Wallon and daughters Sarah, 12, and Savannah, 9, stopped to view the nativity. It’s become something of a family tradition, they said.
“That’s what Christmas is all about,” Wallon said, nodding toward the manger scene. “I give them a lot of credit for being out here in the cold.”
When it comes to gifts, the givers are often receivers, too. There are times when the conversation in the stable grows quiet and there’s a lull in the traffic. Being part of the nativity scene in the silent night offers an opportunity for prayer and contemplation during an otherwise busy season. It’s a good feeling, said Holloway.
“I think I feel closer to the meaning of Christmas,” she said.
On the Web: For information on New Hope Christian Church and its living nativity, visit www.NewHope05.org.
Contact John Gladden at firstname.lastname@example.org.