by Susan Mikula Campbell
The presents are wrapped, the baking and decorating done. Take the time to find the reason for the season at Niagara Presbyterian Church on the corner of Military and Lockport roads in the Town of Niagara.
From 7 to 10 p.m., today, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, the annual Living Nativity continues outside the church, with people of all ages taking the roles of those who traveled to that Bethlehem stable so many years ago.
"We're trying to remind people of the real meaning of Christmas," said Town of Lewiston resident Gary Ashby, who has chaired Niagara Presbyterian's Living Nativity for 32 years.
Ashby said the event has been ongoing for about 35 years. Years ago, the church was invited to move their event to the Festival of Lights in downtown Niagara Falls, but members decided against being sited next to the Sugar Plum Fairy.
"We decided it was best to do it right on our little corner in Town of Niagara," Ashby said. "The Festival of Lights has come and gone, and we're still here."
The Living Nativity has become a family tradition for many.
Michelle Stedge has participated for 20 years, first because her grandparents were members of the church. Now, she's passed the tradition to her own daughters, Crystal, 9, and Jocelyn, 6.
Ashby also participates with his family. His new grandson, Sean, was Baby Jesus at one point during last year's display, filling in for the doll that usually takes the role.
Both parishioners and non-parishioners volunteer for roles. The Living Nativity debuted last Saturday and has been running every night since, with six shifts of "actors" each evening. Most of the shifts have been filled through Christmas, but there is always room at this inn.
"If people really want to be in it, we can make room," Ashby said, explaining that there's normally four to five people in the manger scene, but they've had as many as 21 by adding shepherds and angels.
The scene also includes a cow, sheep and goats from Peter Sparks on Grand Island, and a donkey named Smudgy, loaned by Gene Printup of the Town of Lewiston.
After viewing the Living Nativity, visitors are invited to the Bethlehem Inn in the church basement for hot chocolate, homemade soup and live music, hosted by Ashby.
Niagara Presbyterian also invites the public to its special worship services at 7 and 11 p.m. on Christmas Eve and 10 a.m. on Christmas Day. A service also will be held at 11 a.m. Sunday. For more information about the Living Nativity visit http://www.facebook.com/livingnativity.