Yes, a camel, a donkey and three sheep completely fill her game room, but local artist Terry Johnston wouldn’t have it any other way. And Valerie Dennis has had the privilege of hosting Mary, Joseph and even the three wise men in her home.
“One of the wise men has been standing in a corner of my living room for about four months and visitors are often startled when they walk in to discover he isn’t a real person,” said Dennis, who is the designer and decorator on the organizing committee for the 12th annual Community Crèche & Music Festival, coming up this weekend.
“What I really hope to create is a scene where people feel a sense of wonder, awe and gratitude for the marvelous event of the Savior of the world being born on Earth, where they may feel the spirit of the Lord and have a desire to ‘Come unto Christ.’ ”
The life-size nativity scene being built by a united army of individuals from Davis, Woodland, Winters and Dixon will become the centerpiece of the festival that traditionally kicks off the Christmas season for many. This year, it runs from 3 to 8 p.m. Friday through Sunday at the meetinghouse of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the corner of Gum and Pioneer avenues in Woodland.
The idea for this intricate and massive process began as last year’s festival was wrapping up.
“Even as it was ending last year, I was thinking about how to make next year different and how we can keep people coming back to experience this great community event year after year,” Dennis said.
By spring, Dennis knew the new element would be a life-size nativity. She toyed with several possible styles before she and her husband — “a very handy guy” — settled on building duct tape bodies that were mounted on PVC pipe skeletons, then topped with cosmetology school mannequin heads and covered in fabric to create a realistic look.
“It was fun and fairly easy to find male heads that would work for Joseph, the wise men and a shepherd, but Mary was much harder,” Dennis said. “I felt that many of the female heads had an inappropriate sophistry or a haughty or angry look to them. I finally found one that I thought I could work with, but the baby Jesus was another challenge.”
The group of fellow members of the LDS church from the local communities has rallied to bring Dennis’ vision to life by building, painting and storing the figures in their homes until it all comes together in a couple of weeks.
Johnston knew exactly what she wanted to do when asked to create the animals that would frame the nativity scene.
“I have never done anything this huge, but I was kind of prepared for it by making piñatas for 28 years,” she said.
The papier maché animals have been sealed with acrylic paint and are now being covered in the fabric that will become their skin, “if I can just find the right color of fake fur for the mane and tail of the donkey,” Johnston said with a chuckle.
Surrounding the new life-size nativity at the Community Crèche & Music Festival will be more than 250 scenes from around the world of diverse and fascinating styles, from Africa to Germany and made of everything from carved stone and pewter, to monkey wood and clay.
The event also includes an extensive musical program, a family room of nativity-themed activities for children, and a Christ-centered exhibit featuring artwork of the Savior.
The musical part of the festival features an ongoing program throughout the weekend. Live classical and holiday music performances will include piano, organ, flute, string, vocal solos and choir performances. The most popular part of the musical program has become the Community Choral Concert, on Saturday from 7 to 8 p.m. After local choirs from churches and community groups perform, the evening culminates with all the choirs and the audience combining to sing “O Holy Night” and Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.
The Crèche & Music Festival is a kid-friendly family affair. The centerpiece of the family room is a specially built stable, where children and adults alike can dress up like Mary, Joseph, a shepherd, or a wise man and have their picture taken. While waiting for their picture to be taken, kids can do a special Christmas craft project.