By Jon Johnson
CENTRAL – Christmas is big time in the Gila Valley, and while Nativity scenes may be a thing of the past in some communities, it’s hard to top Graham County’s main Nativity, which utilizes live actors.
The fourth annual “Live Nativity at The Gila Valley Arizona Temple” triumphantly returns Thursday, Dec. 1 through Saturday, Dec. 3. Show times are at 6, 6:45, 7:30 and 8:15 p.m.
The event takes place at the building by the temple’s lawn on the northeast side of the property and is held in conjunction with a Creche Festival inside the adjacent meeting house. The festival features hundreds of nativities and will include musical performances.
Started in 2013 by producer and event originator Tracy Pursley, the Live Nativity event has seen standing room-only crowds each and every year.
“The community has been very helpful,” Pursley said. “Participation has been wonderful, and we’re very excited about it.”
The Nativity not only uses live actors to portray the birth of Jesus Christ, but also utilizes local farm animals.
This production will be “Wise Man” Bill Windsor’s third time participating. He said the spirit of the season that comes from being part of the event keeps bringing him back each year.
“It’s fun to do,” Windsor said. “I think it brings the story to life.”
Hank Hoeft has watched the event in previous years, but, after a call for volunteers in his church, this year he felt a desire to see how it is from the other side. Hoeft portrays the inn keeper.
“I’ve gone to it every year and was always inspired,” Hoeft said.
Last year, Trenton and Sarah Pursley were engaged and both portrayed angels. This year, the couple has since wed and were overjoyed to be given the opportunity to portray Joseph and Mary.
“It’s really a spiritual experience to look inside and remember that Christmas is about Christ and not about anything else,” Sarah Pursley said.
Everyone, regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof is welcome at the event.
“It’s not just about being a member of our faith,” Tracy Pursley said. “It’s about joining all faiths together. Everyone is welcome, and it’s a way to start off the Christmas season unified and to feel part of a community where we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ regardless of what religion we are . . . Hopefully, as people come, they’ll feel that spirit of Christmas and be able to start the holiday off in a really wonderful way.”
If you go, be sure to dress appropriately for the chilly weather. A nice hot beverage of your choice is helpful as well.
What: The fourth annual Live Nativity
Where: The Gila Valley Arizona Temple grounds on the northeast section of property near the ball fields
When: Wed-Sat., Dec. 1-3 with shows at 6, 6:45, 7:30 and 8:15 p.m.
What to bring: Warm Clothing, hot coca