The 20th annual Nativity Show at West End Christian Reformed Church runs from Thursday, December 14-16. Thursday and Friday hours are 6pm-9pm, Saturday hours are 3pm-9pm. The church, located on the North end of Candy Cane Lane, has stayed humble to its roots and spends next to nothing on advertising. Instead they have relied on word of mouth, a handful of posters, and repeat visitors like me to continue their unique Christmas tradition.
This year, there are over 600 nativity scenes on display (based on number of photos taken), showcasing different eras, cultures, artistic styles, mediums, and customs. You’ll find nativity scenes that are traditional, abstract, tiny, temporary, made of paper, beads, nuts, toys, clay, ones that are minimalist, and others which emphasize detail like the ethnicity of the Magi who went to visit Jesus.
The earliest nativity scene is attributed to St Francis of Assisi back in 1223 AD. He used nativity scenes at Christmas to place emphasis on the ‘reason for the season’ over the secularization and pagan influences of the Christian holiday. Eight hundred years later, the struggle continues among Christian circles, but the nativity scenes are more vibrant than ever thanks to the collection displayed at the event. Some displays belong to members of the congregation, while others are privately loaned to the church for the show. Over the years, nativity scenes have also been donated to the church as word of their annual show got out. Their ice sculpture at the corner of 100av and 149st has also become an annual display to look forward to in itself as commuters drive by in the winter.
Those well-versed in the Christmas accounts would know that while the three wise men never showed up until well after Jesus was born. The nativity is not intended to capture a single moment in time, but includes characters and elements of the entire birth narrative to remind the devout of the entire story. Over the centuries, nativity scenes have been influenced based on the culture and time period. In Canada and US, baby Jesus is always at the centre of the scene, while in Latin America, the infant is missing during Advent and the manger remains empty until Christmas Day which celebrates the birth.
Accompanied by the nativity displays are musical performances in the sanctuary, a live clay creation of a nativity, scavenger hunt, and hot chocolate or cider to warm you up after seeing their ice sculpture. On some years, you can also make a nativity and take it with you as you stroll down Candy Cane Lane.
Here’s a photo album of most of the nativity scenes last year.