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Friday, 09 December 2016 13:10

Machesney Park nativity comes to life for Christmas

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MACHESNEY PARK -- Manger scenes depicting Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus surrounded by the three wise men are popular decorations on people’s lawns during the holiday season.

However, that scene is now coming to life, because several area churches are conducting live Nativity scenes during the upcoming weeks.

Riverside Community Church, 6816 N. Second St. in Machesney Park, will conduct "A Night in Bethlehem" drive-thru Nativity scene from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 10, 2016 and Dec. 11, 2016. The program will feature five scenes depicting the story of Jesus’ birth.

"Each scene depicts the story of Christmas. There are live animals, such as camels, donkeys and goats," said The Rev. Bobby Sheets. "There’s Mary and Joseph, the townspeople and the wise men -- all the people from the story in the Bible. We have 500 luminaries along the path. There’s a large star on the flagpole that people will see as they enter."

People who attend will receive a CD, which narrates each of the five scenes.

"If people don’t have a CD player in their car, we will give them a portable CD player," Sheets said. "The narrator takes people through each scene. The narration is done by a former news reporter from the local area, so it’s professionally done."

Sheets said about 80 actors are involved with the Nativity scene. He said there are several other people who perform the behind-the-scenes work. The animals are from the Lost River Dean Farms in Indiana.

"We rotate (the actors) in 30-minute shifts," Sheets said. "We have about 40 or 50 additional people who work behind the scenes. We have people who are involved with setting up the buildings and people who are involved with the costumes. Deputies from the sheriff’s department direct traffic, and that helps us out a lot."

Planning for the live Nativity scene begins about six months in advance. Sheets said they usually begin the setup about a week prior to the event.

"We set up the large buildings the Saturday before. That takes about four hours," Sheets said. "The Thursday before, we start setting up the lighting. The Saturday of, we do the finishing touches, such as setting up the smaller props."

This will be the fourth year that the church has hosted a live Nativity scene. About 2,500 people attend each year. Sheets said the Nativity scene helps people get into the holiday spirit.

"It’s different from a normal Christmas display," Sheets said. "I think the animals are a big draw. I think a lot of people attend because it gives them a break from the commercialization of Christmas, and they can celebrate the true meaning of Christmas. Before 5:30 p.m., we have cars lined up for about a half mile and then the cars come in at a steady pace."

There is no cost to attend the Nativity scene.

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