SMOKEY POINT — Jesus, Mary and Joseph figurines made out of recycled flowerpots sat on a round table next to a shiny white porcelain nativity and in front of a third display crafted out of colorful cloth and papier-mache.
Cyndy Thompson reached into a plastic bin filled with boxed nativity sets — each depicting the biblical story of the birth of Jesus Christ in a manger in Bethlehem — and pulled out one made in Mexico of hand-carved cow bone.
“You never know what you’re going to get,” she said.
Thompson joined other volunteers Tuesday morning to decorate different rooms of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at 17222 43rd Ave. NE. More helpers were scheduled to arrive in the afternoon and Wednesday to finish setting up.
Their main focus was the gym and chapel, where roughly 500 nativity sets, dozens of poinsettias, thousands of Christmas lights and a handful of decorated trees were being arranged for the church’s fourth Arlington Nativity Festival.
The celebration started Thursday and continues through Sunday. The church is open to the public from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Friday and from 3 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free.
More than 500 volunteers are helping with the festival, which started five years ago. It wasn’t held last year but they hope to make it an annual event.
They baked about 1,500 cookies for guests and set up an area where children can play and make crafts. They have two life-sized stable scenes and boxes of nativity-inspired costumes. The stable in the gym will have volunteer actors taking shifts as a live nativity during the festival. The other stable is a photo backdrop, so families can dress up and have their pictures taken.
Choir and orchestra performances are planned for Saturday and Sunday at 7 p.m. Local pianists, harpists, violinists, singers and flutists have volunteered to play during the rest of the festival. A “Rejoice in Christ” exhibit takes up another room of the church, with paintings of Jesus hung on a backdrop of burlap and a mural of Bethlehem.
All of the nativities and paintings are loaned to the church by members of the congregation and others in the community. One local collector let them borrow more than 50 nativity sets from her home.
“This brings in my friends and neighbors and gets the Christmas season started,” Thompson said. “It feels like Christmas after the festival starts.”
Janice Dickson loves the nativity festival because it opens the church’s doors to everyone, she said. It’s for the whole community to enjoy.
“The basic feeling of it is it’s all about the nativities and Christ,” she said. “It’s not just about our church.”
Fellow volunteer Jeanie Andelin is a fan of the Rejoice in Christ exhibit, which she helped coordinate. The gym full of nativities and poinsettias is stunning, she said, but the paintings in the smaller, quieter room really hit home for her.
“To me, that’s the heart of Christmas,” she said. “Christ is the heart of Christmas.”
The Arlington festival was inspired by a similar event in Bellevue, volunteer Laurie O’Bryant said. The church has hosted Christmas concerts for years but the nativity festival has been a welcome addition, she said.
For more information, including a full calendar of performances, go to arlingtonnativityfestival.org.
Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; email@example.com.