When Christmas begins to seem too busy and too commercial, Nativities and Noels offers a simple, beautiful reminder of the holiday's beginnings.

The display of nativities is open to visitors from Friday, Nov. 30, through Sunday, Dec. 2, at the Topeka Stake Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2401 S.W. Kingsrow Road. Carol Christensen, chairwoman of Nativities and Noels, shared details about the family-friendly event.


Who came up with the idea for the event? How has it changed over the years?

Over 10 years ago, I learned about nativities displays that some other congregations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held in different cities and thought it would be worthwhile to try something similar here. For a couple of years, we had a small display of nativities in conjunction with an evening, church-sponsored Christmas music program. Then, reflecting that Jesus often gets forgotten at Christmas and that a bigger nativities event could be a real blessing to people in the Topeka area, I proposed in 2012 that our local Latter-day Saint congregations sponsor a multi-day event, Nativities and Noels, that would feature many more nativities and live, ongoing Christ-centered Christmas music.

That first year, we had about 200 nativities and live noels — all from our church members. Since 2012, we've added Sunday hours, more Christmas activities and many more nativities. Happily, people from the community have shared their nativities and musical talents with the event in ever-increasing numbers. This year they will share about 200 of the 700 nativities we expect to display and provide some wonderful Christmas music, too.


Has it always been held at the same venue?

Yes, it's always been at the Topeka Stake Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, at 2401 S.W. Kingsrow Road. The building is perfect for the event: spacious, beautiful, handicapped-accessible and close to Wanamaker Road, where many people spend time before Christmas.


Where do the nativities come from?

This year's nativities are on loan from Latter-day Saints in the greater Topeka area and from friends from eight other churches in Topeka: Most Pure Heart of Mary Catholic Church, the Community of Christ, Topeka Bible Church, First Church of the Nazarene, University United Methodist Church, Christ the King Catholic Church, Wanamaker Woods Church of the Nazarene and Susanna Wesley United Methodist Church.


I understand there will be a special program Saturday night. Could you tell me a little bit about it?

The program, which will start at 7 p.m. and run until about 8:30 p.m., will consist entirely of Christ-focused Christmas music. We are delighted that the Countryside United Methodist Church Bell Choir will provide about 30 minutes of music. Choirs from several Latter-day Saint congregations in the area will sing. Plus, there will be Christmas songs that audience members will get to sing together. Before or after the music program, attendees will be able to view the nativities and enjoy refreshments.


What are some of the other planned activities that will go with the event?

Two of the most popular activities for people of all ages are a photo nativity booth, where family and friends can dress up as Mary, Joseph, wise men and so forth and have their photo taken, and a nativities seek-and-find sheet, similar to "Where's Waldo?", to help interested people look carefully at the nativities. Children who come on Saturday and Sunday can also make a nativity craft. On all three days we'll have a room with lots of Christmas books that parents and grandparents can read to their little ones. There will also be a room with ongoing Christmas videos.


What are some of the more unusual nativities you have seen since the event began?

I am constantly amazed by the creative materials used in many of the nativities — for example, marbles, seeds, cement, coconut shells, and recycled hymnbooks, fence posts, pop cans, steel drums and auto parts. A particularly unique and moving nativity was made in Liberia out of used bullet casings left from a long civil war there: A symbol of war now depicts the birth of the Prince of Peace.


I understand there will be Christmas music performed throughout the event. What groups will be providing it?

Most of the live "noels" throughout the event will feature talented Latter-day Saint vocalists and instrumentalists, including a brass quintet and a duo on guitar and mandolin. We are also very pleased to have several groups from the community providing Christmas music, too. For instance, Washburn Rural High School's This Generation will sing at 12:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 30; the Kansas Youth Chorale will perform at 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 1; and the Topeka Community Mass Choir, in which I sing, will sing gospel Christmas music at 4 p.m. Sunday.


Is there an admission fee?

The event is totally free. We consider it a Christmas gift to the community.


Anything else you would like to add?

Though I have headed up Nativities and Noels since its inception in 2012, there are a lot of other people who work very hard each year to make this event happen by sharing, inventorying, setting up and taking down nativities; lining up and providing music throughout the event; making refreshments; serving as hosts, greeters, and overnight security; helping with the children's crafts or reading room, and other activities; and publicizing the event.

We expect to have about 700 nativities from about 90 countries this year. It's very sweet to see that people all over the world love and identify with Jesus and the story of his birth and show him in their nativities as one of their own. We love that this event has brought Christians of many different denominations together to commemorate Jesus' birth. We have people frequently tell us that Nativities and Noels is a great way to start the Christmas season and keep the real meaning and spirit of Christmas with them. Even if people have come before, the display and music will be different, but the wonderful spirit there will be the same. Whether people come for religious reasons or because they just enjoy unique art, homemade crafts, beautiful music or different cultures, we think that they will enjoy this event and be glad they came.


Carolyn Kaberline is a freelance writer from Topeka. She can be reached at carolyn.kaberline@gmail.com.