RANCHO SANTA FE — An estimated 15,000 people experienced Horizon Christian Fellowship’s annual Living Nativity, scenes re-creating the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. What began 14 years ago with just a few people re-enacting one scene has grown into a huge production that now requires close to 1,000 people to pull off.
The four-day event, which was held Dec. 18 to Dec. 21, has become a spectacle that families return to see year after year. Admission is free. “This is our gift to the community,” Gary McCartie, assistant pastor at the church, said. While families waited patiently in line to witness the live scenes and re-enactments, children could wander through a replica of a Middle Eastern marketplace complete with carnival-like activities and even a camel ride. After the event, an optional dinner of Mediterranean cuisine was available for $7.
“Our biggest objective is to make this a family tradition,” McCartie said. “We’re amazed at how many people want to be part of this. They support with their time, their talent and their money.” Indeed, the manpower for the event is considerable. Not only does it take a cast of nearly 100 to enact the scenes, but also hundreds of people are needed to construct sets, work in the kitchen, gather materials, and organize the recreation.
After the event, sets are stored and costumes put away. But the Living Nativity is truly a living thing, always changing, always adapting. “We try to make it more beautiful every year,” McCartie said. “And we have to keep it interesting, both for those who attend time and again and for those in the cast. Otherwise it would become tiresome for people.”
Over the years there have been some unexpected challenges. “When you’re dealing with live animals, things happen. They get spooked. Or children will scare them. Sometimes people bring pets to the event and they spook the animals.” In 2004, Santa Ana winds swept through during the first day and destroyed sets. “It was amazing to see people come together,” McCartie said. “Everyone pitched in and put it back together again.”
With 15,000 people passing through the event in a short period of four evenings, does the impressive event bring people to the church? “Yes, it brings the curious,” McCartie said. “Afterwards, we do see a boost in attendance. But then, we’re always open to anyone. Our whole purpose is to introduce people to the real message of Christmas. It’s all about Jesus.”
San Diego County experienced heavy rains both before and after the event. Yet the four evenings that were the Living Nativity were dry and comfortable. Is there any explanation for this? “God uniquely blessed it,” McCartie said with a laugh.
In the aftermath of the enormous event, the cast and crew are recouping from the experience, but next year’s event will soon be in the planning stages. “This is the vision of Pastor Bob Botsford,” McCartie said. “It truly is our desire to give this to the community. We realize it’s often a challenge to park and wait in line, but it’s worth it to experience the life and ongoing experience of God.”