Traditionally, among those surrounding the Holy Family in a nativity scene are a camel, donkey, lamb, cow or maybe an ox, but at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Burbank this weekend, there were also several moose.
The church hosted its annual “Christmas Nativity Festival” Saturday and Sunday, displaying roughly 240 sets of the sculptures depicting the birth of Jesus Christ with his parents, the Virgin Mary and Joseph, and the Three Wise Men in Bethlehem, among other stable inhabitants.
The moose in question were featured in one set where not only were the stable-berthed creatures all moose — one in sheep’s clothing and a two-humped moose-as-camel — but so were the baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the gift-bearing visitors from the east and even the angels, with tiny gold-colored halos and little white wings, their hooves clasped in prayer.
There were nativities big and small, including a custom-drawn one by DreamWorks artist Glenn Harmon that was projected on the church wall, plus one made of Lego blocks, a snow globe nativity and the “Negativity Scene,” which features frown-faced figurines — yes, the infant Jesus, an angel and even a sheep and donkey are scowling — cutely evoking the holiday spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge.
Such was the diversity of the creches, including 11 from the private collection of Bob and Dolores Hope, at the free event that was open to the public.
“I would say you could count the duplicates on one hand,” said Kellie Austin, who was in charge of organizing the event.
But the festival also featured a life-size manger replicating what the humble stable where Jesus was born might have looked like, made of tree branches and palm fronds.
In that version, the parts were played not by large ruminant animals, but by living humans in a nativity pageant. Mary and Joseph were played, in shifts, by four sets of new parents, with their babies portraying the Christ Child.
Catherine Marsh — whose son Isaiah, 13, portrayed a shepherd boy, and daughter Avery, 11, portrayed the innkeeper’s daughter — was one of more than 100 volunteers who helped out with the festival. She said the event, which drew more than 2,400 visitors, was a unifying experience for the members of Burbank’s various denominations and a good way to start the holiday season.
“It culminated in the live nativity,” Marsh said. “[Visitors] saw that this was a family and [Jesus] was a baby and that baby was born in humble circumstances.”
The event also featured live music with performances by Burbank High School’s a cappella groups, St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Children’s Choir and groups from Ralph Waldo Emerson and Thomas Jefferson elementary schools.
Families and children could pose for photos between a straw-filled cradle and a manger backdrop.
Festival-goers were asked to bring a nonperishable item to benefit a food drive for the Burbank Temporary Aid Center, which provides services for local needy families, working poor and the homeless.
Barbara Howell, chief executive of the center and a member of the Hollytones, a choral group that performed at the event, said that looking out on the crowd during the quartet’s performance, “I was just really touched by the gathering of the community,” that included a diverse cross-section of the city.
Residents donated between 600 and 700 pounds of food, Howell said, plus there were cash donations, which the center will use to help clients pay bills to avoid becoming homeless.
Howell, it turns out, is also the owner of the moose nativity set, which she said her mother found on a road trip in Yellowstone National Park and gave to Howell not long before her death.
“It’s a tender connection to my mother,” Howell said, though she said it was a bit of an unusual choice for someone who had been fairly traditional. However, she added, “It’s just so fun.”