A crush of creches

ARLINGTON — So many nativity sets. So little time.

Jeremy Williams, 10, traveled with his family from Stanwood on Thursday evening to view more than 500 nativity scenes displayed at the Arlington Nativity Festival.

Joseph, Mary, Jesus, angels, shepherds, the three wise men and the stable animals are depicted in glass, wood, nuts, Legos, bone, fabric, fur, ceramic and even bullet shell casings. The creche figurines are from around the world.

“I was shocked at how many nativities there are,” said Jeremy. “Big, small, looking like bears, cats and snowmen. So many!”

Jeremy had to go home before he had examined each one, but the Arlington stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints offers the free, nondenominational festival display again this weekend at the church just off 172nd Street in Arlington.

Minus the animals in the stable, a live nativity scene is scheduled each day, along with live music by local musicians. Popular among children attending the festival is a special room where kids can play with nativity sets, make crafts for Christmas and be photographed in shepherd costumes.

Ethan Cox, 10, Joseph McLean, 9, and Brandon Rogers, 8, all of the Marysville area, enjoyed touring the church’s large hall Thursday, picking out their favorites among all the nativity displays.

Ethan especially liked a fragile traditional glass set, but Brandon and Joseph had their eyes on the set that showed a moose family in the creche scene.

“It’s hilarious,” Brandon said.

Church members decided to pool together nativity scenes last Christmas and display them at the church. It was so popular among members that they opened the doors this year to the community. Volunteers worked more than 40 hours to set up the displays, festival organizer Dawn Dickson said.

“Your eyes can barely take it all in. We did this in-house on a smaller scale last Christmas, but this year we knew we had to open it up to the community. Next year, we hope to get other churches and individuals involved,” Dickson said. “We have sets from places such as Paraguay, Mexico, Japan, South Africa, Ireland, Hawaii, Russia and Liberia.”

Church members Beryl and Rita Mauldin went to Liberia two years ago to find the exact geographic location of the place where an LDS church official had performed a dedication ceremony in the African country years before.

While at the spot, Beryl Mauldin stumbled on some rifle shell casings. A local man explained that the shells were left from a brutal civil war battle between rebel and government forces, Rita Mauldin said.

The Mauldins took the casings to a craftsman in the city of Monrovia and asked him to fashion them into a nativity set.

“It speaks to the essence of much of Africa,” said Rita Mauldin, a retired teacher. “A storm cloud that hangs over so many sweet people.”

The display includes many nativity scenes made here at home, Dickson said.

Among the hand-carved wooden sets is one by church elder Ted Rumsey of Camano Island.

Rumsey, 75, spent time in Florida in 2006 helping a friend replace roofs after a hurricane swept through the swamp country of the state.

There he found remains of up-ended cypress tree roots and had some of the wood shipped home. In November, he pulled out his pocket knife and began whittling the light-weight wood into a creche scene.

“I left the gnarly sides of these pieces alone, because it’s hard to improve on nature,” Rumsey explained. “But on the other side you can see the characters of the nativity.”

Rumsey’s scene is in the foyer of the church.

“We hope everyone comes out to see our displays,” he said.

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

More info

The Arlington stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints offers a free, nondenominational festival display from 2 to 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 to 9 p.m. Sunday at the church building, 17222 43rd Ave. NE, just off 172nd Street in Arlington. More information: www.arlingtonnativityfestival.org.

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