From the Back Pew: Christmas activities abound locally

If you've watched Classic Arts Showcase (locally, it airs on KCET late nights) for any length of time, you've probably caught its mission statement, which tells viewers that it is the program's hope that by providing video clips of the arts, it "may tempt you, the viewer, to go out and feast from the buffet of arts available in your community."

I remembered this mission statement as I've been looking at the buffet, if you will, of Christmas events/celebrations taking place in our local churches and around the area in the next couple of weeks, including some food and gift drives. Everything from nativity scenes with real animals and concerts to arts and crafts for kids and services by candlelight — not to mention a plethora of great food — will be presented either for free, or for a nominal price.

I get dizzy just looking at all that's going on, and I won't include all of the events in my column this week, but there are some really cool ones I'd like to point out. You can check out The Valley Sun's Around 'n' About calendar pages for more events.

The first is La Crescenta Presbyterian Church's annual live nativity scene. It will be held outside the church before Christmas services at 7 p.m. Dec. 23, and at 5 and 7 p.m. Dec. 24. The scene features a donkey (sort of the must-have mascot for all nativity scenes), lambs, chickens and "other animals," according to the church. Nativity scenes represent what tradition tells us is the birthplace of Christ — a manger, in a barn in Bethlehem. The scene is set up a few feet from the church entrance and is easily visible as you drive down Montrose Avenue. Other services include a 10 p.m. Christmas Eve service featuring the Cathedral Choir singing Christmas carols by candlelight.

Just down the street and around the corner on La Crescenta Avenue, Crescenta Valley Community Church will offer another live nativity scene from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Dec. 5. Hot chocolate and Christmas carols for all.

In Glendale, St. Luke's Anglican Church will present, at 10 a.m. Sunday, a program on St. Nicholas, the third-century bishop of Myra, who is the basis for that jolly old fat man, Santa Claus. There will also be a toy drive that day, benefitting World Impact.

In La Cañada, St. Bede's Church will host its annual celebration of Simbang Gabi, the Filipino celebration of Christmas. The celebration will be held at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 18 in the church, said St. Bede Simbang Gabi volunteer Norma M. Cunanan. Simbang Gabi means night Mass or dawn Mass — and with particularly good reason. If the organizers of this event were to strictly adhere to the traditional worship schedule (and if we were in the Philippines), we would see Masses at the church starting at 4 a.m. for nine days straight. Laugh at this if you will, but in the Philippines, it is considered a rite of passage for some people to get up for 4 a.m. Mass for nine days straight, although there is no obligation to attend Mass everyday, said Simbang Gabi committee volunteer Ludi Cruz-Herrera.

"If you can get up before dawn for nine days straight, you've pretty much proven yourself," he said, adding that some churches in Los Angeles still celebrate Simbang Gabi Mass in the pre-dawn hours.

In Burbank, people will have a chance to eat breakfast with the man himself, Santa Claus, at the Burbank Town Center at 8:30 a.m. on Dec. 11.

Burbank Barnes & Noble and Glendale Barnes & Noble are having their respective book drives, as well. The Burbank store's book drive is now through Jan. 1, and benefits locally designated nonprofits, including schools, libraries and literacy organizations. The Glendale store's book drive benefits Childrens Hospital Los Angeles and runs now though Jan. 1.

I hope I've gotten your Christmas celebration gears going and that you consider attending or participating some of these events. In our communities one thing is for sure: You can never say there is nothing to do to celebrate the Christmas season.

MICHAEL J. ARVIZU writes for the La Cañada Valley Sun. Reach him at (818) 637-3263 or e-mail

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