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DRAPER, Utah One of Salt Lake Valley's more popular yuletide attractions this year has not been in the capital city but some 20 miles to the south, where the Draper Utah River View Stake sponsors an annual living Nativity scene.
The attraction was staged this year behind the stake center on the nights of Dec. 6-9. Its popularity might be measured by the willingness of hundreds of people to wait 45 minutes in line in a driving winter wind for their opportunity to walk through a park pavilion that had been transformed into a Bethlehem village/inn/manger setting. Within, visitors viewed a donkey and costumed actors portraying a carpenter working at his craft, merchants, a beggar, an afflicted person lying on the ground, a man telling passersby that "there is no room in the inn," and, of course, the holy family, including a live baby portraying the Christ child.
There were other features to ease the wait in line: a live goat, camel and shepherds by an open fire. An impromptu chorus of full-time missionaries regaled visitors with Christmas hymns.
Stake President Craig E. Middleton said a cast of about 60 people were involved in the effort, plus many others in support services such as parking and security. Many of those involved are friends of other faiths, he added.
The event began four years ago, he said, as a ward project in the Draper Utah Stake by Bishop Stephen Buntjer, now second counselor to President Middleton. Stake boundaries in the area have since been realigned, and the recently created River View Stake now has charge of the Nativity, which has grown to about twice the size as it has been in past years, when it was staged off site from the stake center, President Middleton said.
By an "unscientific" estimate, about 20,000 visitors came this year, he said. "It's something we don't advertise. We invite stake members, and a few outside the stake receive special invitations, but otherwise it's by word of mouth." Even so, he said he spoke with one family who drove from Boise, Idaho, just to see the Nativity and drove home that night. Others have come from Utah County to the south.
"The comments people make are very sweet and tender," he said. "While people are waiting in line, there is joviality and lots of laughter, fun and loud talking. When they come out, they are very quiet and very reverent."
Perhaps one indication of the production's impact is the experience of one family. As they were returning to their vehicle, the eldest child, 7, commented, "It was sad in there." Asked why, he replied, "Because the people seemed sad, even though I know they were just pretending." During the ride home he again remarked how sad it was, saying that it hurt his heart, and then began to sob. Taking advantage of a teaching moment, the mother reminded the family that Jesus had come, among other reasons to heal, bless and comfort those who were afflicted, and that members of the Church today have the opportunity to contribute through the Welfare Plan to help those who are in need.