Advent begins with nativity drama and street party
By Lindsay Peyton
It’s the most wonderful time of the year – when West University UMC closes the streets, making way for a musical and nativity scene, complete with wise men, shepherds and angels. A manger is erected, and lights are hung in the surrounding oak trees. The tradition held an even greater significance this year, after being canceled by COVID last Christmas. “Christmas Alive is back,” Director of Music Ministries Lynne Jackson said.
The event is held early each year to shift the community’s focus to Advent, she explained. This season’s production was held on Dec. 5. Newly added for the occasion was a drive for mittens, hats and scarves for Star of Hope Mission.
The church considers the annual performance a gift to the neighborhood. “It really kicks off the season,” Stephanie Chapel, Director of Communications, said. “It’s the way everyone in the community gets into the holiday spirit.”
The first Christmas Alive was held in December 1986, under the leadership of founding director, Laura Elwood. “Children’s ministry asked her to put something together for Christmas,” Jackson said. “And Laura loves a challenge.”
The result was an outdoor nativity drama and musical, performed in the church’s front lawn. “It just took,” Jackson said. “It continued year after year, and it’s become an anticipated event in the community.”
For each occasion, a stable is built in the yard, and when the city shuts down the street, the church sets up about 300 chairs. “It’s a beautiful setting,” Jackson said.
The cast, crew and support team is made up of about 100 individuals. An adult choir and a children’s angel choir are part of the main attraction. “The whole premise is that as many people from the church can participate as possible,” Jackson said. “It’s made to be accessible to anyone who wants to participate.”
Many children in the church remember singing in the elementary school choir or performing as middle school shepherds, high school wise men and angels. Some have even portrayed baby Jesus.
There have been occasions when Jesus was actually the child of the person performing as Mary or Joseph. “I did that one year and really enjoyed it,” Jackson recalled with a smile.
Animals in the performance include a donkey, camel, sheep and goats. Children sing Hark! The Herald Angel Sing” and “Away in a Manger.”
“It starts in the dark, with prophetic scriptures being spoken,” Jackson said. “A light comes on, and a narration begins.”
Isaiah and Micah appear, as well as a town choir. “We work our way through the story,” Jackson said.
“At the end, we have a beautiful solo of ‘Immanuel,’” Jackson said. She points to the lyrics, “Our God is with us/ And if God is with us/ Who could stand against us.”
“It’s very powerful,” she added. “Then, the audience gets to participate as we close with ‘Silent Night’ and ‘Joy to the World.’”
Then, the animals lead everyone to the backyard for a party. Children enjoy a petting zoo, camel rides and activities. “We grill hot dogs, make popcorn and have hot chocolate,” Jackson said. “People can sit and socialize.”
The backyard party was added to Christmas Alive in 2016. “And it really has become a hit,” Jackson added.
After the pandemic stood in the way of Christmas Alive last year, church members were eager of this performance. “We had several community members reach out to us to explain that especially after such a difficult year, they were looking forward to some Christmas cheer,” Chapel said.
This year, West University UMC was proud to reprise the musical for all to enjoy – with a few masks and changes to ensure safety. Chapel was excited to attend for the first time. “It’s such a staple in the community,” she said.