400 Nativity scenes and 100 dozen cookies11/1/2017
Baby Jesus, plus cookies, and after three days…
This holiday season, when the women at Valley United Methodist Church host a festival of nativity scenes, they won’t be feeding 5,000 people with only five loaves, but they do plan to bake 100 dozen cookies to feed the multitudes in attendance.
One hundred dozen cookies contain roughly a million chocolate chips, and Fran Watson — one of the organizers — says that’s appropriate.
“We’re Methodist; there’s always food,” she jokes.
The event, which showcases nativity scenes, began in 2004 with a question:
“Why not ask the congregation to donate nativity sets, set them up in the fellowship hall, and then invite the public in?”
The idea was to give the free-will donations to Habitat to Humanity, which they have.
“And we raise a nice amount of money for Habitat for Humanity,” adds Anita Canney, another organizer of the event. She says it’s roughly $3,000 each year.
The festival started small the first year, but it went well. The church went for it again the next year, and more sets have been added through the years.
“And now we have 400 sets,” says Margaret Forster, a third event organizer.
Some sets are simple, consisting of a single silhouette of just Mary, Joseph and Jesus. Others are equipped with 40-plus pieces. The scenes are set up in various shapes and sizes, and the women know them all by heart.
“I think we counted, and we had 26 countries,” says Watson. The number changes each year.
Canney once made one out of old telephone wire; another is made of egg shells.
“We start the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and we open four days later,” says Watson. “It’s just awesome.”
Each year, there is a new theme. This year it is: A king is born.
It takes four days to set up for the three-day event.
“Well, four and a half,” admits Watson.
But no one individual person shoulders the burden.
“We’re truly amazed at our volunteers,” says Forster. “It’s a huge time commitment, and they come through every year.”
Everyone in the congregation helps out baking the cookies. A sign-up sheet is passed around, and 35 families contribute. The same goes for the 30 gallons of coffee and 15 gallons of apple cider.
“It takes the whole church; it really does,” says Watson.
The festival isn’t all for show. The nativity scenes mean something to the women helping put it all together.
“It gives a purpose to life,” Watson says, and they all agree. “Knowing that we’re safe, and he’s always there to protect us, and knowing that that little baby is our Savior… It’s amazing.”
“And it wasn’t the type of king that most people were expecting,” adds Canney.
A nativity scene represents the Biblical story about a young woman who must have been scared after finding herself pregnant during a time and in a place that wasn’t forgiving of such things. Mary and Joseph were betrothed at the time, which is different, but similar, to being engaged in modern times. The law allowed for Joseph to do what many would have — quietly distance himself. He followed his heart and helped out instead.
Wise men came from “the East.” They were looking for Jesus after seeing a sign in the sky. Many, but not all, nativity scenes include their arrival. Upon seeing the child, they fall and worship, offering gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Wise men and women are welcome at Valley United Methodist Church for the nativity festival. Myrrh or frankincense are not required. And Watson, Forster, Canney and company will have chocolate chip delicacies and 400 baby Jesuses on display. Actually, the women say one infant figurine is missing, which means there should be plenty of room at least at one inn.
The nativity scene display runs Dec. 1 through Dec. 3, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and from 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday. The church will accept free-will offerings to benefit Habitat for Humanity, but admission is free. The church is located at 42nd and Ashworth in West Des Moines. ♦