BY RUTH RICE
O come, o come, Emmanuel.
Guests will take time to ponder the reason for the season during the 29th annual Festival of the Nativity, which will be presented from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 and 1:15 to 8:30 p.m. Dec. 2 at First Presbyterian Church, 309 Lincoln St., downtown Johnstown.
The weekend features a display of nativities from around the world as well as musical and vocal presentations by area performers.
This year’s coordinator is Wendy Vickroy, whose mother, Lynne Williams, and grandmother, Leah Williams, have long been associated with the festival.
In addition to the three-generation nativity engineers, some of the other workers are Janet Braude, Isabel Cruse, Don and Bonnie Bash, Bill Robinson Jr., Marlene Eisenhauer, Ruth Fisher and Billie Ann Murphy.
“A lot is done behind-the-scenes with the men and youth and others,” Lynne Williams said.
“We couldn’t pull it off without them. Even someone offering to get us lunch is a big help.”
Festival workers begin their task the Sunday after Thanksgiving and continue until the job is done.
Every year brings new ideas and plans, and Williams said a project in the making for this year is a tree in the narthex with a life-size silhouette of a wise man.
In addition to nativities of various sizes and materials displayed on pastel or vibrantly colored pieces of fabric, the festival features plates, snow globes, tapestries and paintings depicting the birth of Christ.
“So much of what we do is off the cuff,” Vickroy said of the group’s creativity.
“The nativities are the same, but we set them up to look differently. Sometimes we struggle more trying to switch up.”
This year holds no numerical significance, but it will be a special year because it will be dedicated to festival founder Lois Siehl, who died in August.
“We want to commemorate her, so we’ve purchased a nativity in her memory,” said Williams, who isn’t sure where the nativity will be placed.
“It’s authentic looking. The stable is more stone than wood.”
Siehl always called the festival a spirit gift to the community.
“Quietness is a time that we’re trying to emphasize because the spirit of Christmas cannot really come with all the hustle and bustle, shopping and overemphasis on commercialism,” Siehl said in a 1985 Tribune-Democrat article.
“This is planned so you’ll have a quiet time to meditate and to let the real spirit of Christmas come to you.”
Williams said Siehl attended the festival every year, even after she was no longer actively involved.
“We wouldn’t be doing this without her,” Williams said.
In 29 years, the festival has been canceled only once because of weather.
Even though Vickroy and Williams said they see some of the same people attend the festival every year, they are amazed to hear that others didn’t know of its existence before attending for the first time.
A tentative schedule of performers includes First Presbyterian bell choir, the Williams Quartet, Carol Yewcic, Paul Kuzmiak and a Christmas carol sing-along on Nov. 30; Johnstown Reed Band and Joyful Notes of Bedford on Dec. 1; and Forest Hills and Bishop McCort Catholic high school choirs and St. Matthew’s Anglican and First United Methodist church choirs on Dec. 2.
Some performers call the church to ask to participate, and others are called by nativity committee members.
A recital by area music students will be held at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 2.
A highlight of the festival comes on the last day when all the choirs that performed during the weekend join voices to sing several selections and the “Hallelujah Chorus,” concluding the evening and the festival.
“We get a full sanctuary for the choirs,” Vickroy said.
“What you’re seeing while you’re facing them is very emotional.”
Her mother agrees.
“After the words to the ‘Hallelujah Chorus,’ I don’t know what else you can say,” Williams said.
The choirs come at 4 for rehearsal, then are served supper before their performance.
“People can’t believe they only rehearse together for an hour,” Williams said.
“The festival is always the kick off for the holiday season for us.”
The festival is opened and closed with prayer.
Reason for season
What: 29th annual Festival of the Nativity.
When: 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 and 1:15 to 8:30 p.m. Dec. 2.
Where: First Presbyterian Church, 309 Lincoln St., downtown Johnstown.
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