Editor’s note — This story about a recent local nativity scene was written in first person by Nellda Friend, a Leesburg area resident.
My cell phone has a full and busy life. It is used as a promoting device about our little Hardins Creek Church’s project, an effort to celebrate Christ’s birth despite the COVID-19 that prevented congregating. Our “Drive Through Nativity” was coming up Dec. 19-20, and showing a picture is my attempt to encourage participation. However, I must admit, my enthusiasm was a complete reverse from my first reaction to the idea.
Another drive through I heard about had taken an evening for a family to stand in the cold for a couple hours with nearly no one coming by. Was that what we were planning, I wondered?
Then at our planning meeting there was a shocker. An embodiment of creativity was Sherri Barrett, who had it all laid out — there would be a circuitous pattern where the vehicles could pass by different parts of the story of Jesus’ birth. She had prayed for the Holy Spirit to guide those taking part, and then laid the groundwork on which that guidance could take place. She humored the group with her depiction of another breed of sheep, these ones made with all the cotton balls she could buy. She also developed ingenious costumes for the different parts.
It sounded overwhelming. I was glad to concentrate on the parts of Santa and his Mrs. Claus (my husband and myself) just greeting the visitors at the end at the church, while the “elves” heated and delivered hot chocolate and little baggies of cookies to the vehicle’s occupants.
“Santa” and I took the box of candy canes from the house kitchen. His question, “I hope we can return these?” echoed my thoughts. “Surely we will in no way have enough attendees to use all these,” he said.
But the cars came in a fairly steady procession. Santa pleasantly greeted everyone. He asked each one what he/she wanted for Christmas. He told the kids to eat their vegetables (while we handed them cookies and candy) and he told them to help their moms and dads and to clean their rooms.
One of our son’s friends called to tell him to thank his dad. Evidently, his little boy had cleaned his room better than ever, and when asked why, the boy said, “because Santa told me to.”
Santa had some uncertainty about how to treat the Amish. He didn’t know if they played along with the Santa part. But when one mom told her child, “Look, there is Santa,” he decided it was OK.
I told him that he needed to be more religious in his Santa part, so he added a “God bless you” at the end.
I wanted to experience the event so for the first few minutes of the second night, I left Santa. First, turning off SR 771, my car was stopped by two determined Centurions, in elegantly appropriate attire. In no uncertain terms, I was told I must go to the town of my ancestors — “ Bethlehem” — to be counted in the census.
Next, I passed the weary travelers in the caravan going to Bethlehem. I found the inn was crowded with a bunch of teenagers in a barn. They told me to move on as there was “no room at the inn.” Next were the shepherds with that new breed of sheep.
High on a hill overlooking the lights below manifested a celestial, soul-awakening experience. Was this what the shepherds experienced when the angel chorus greeted them, I thought? Possibly, because there as I passed, the stark white on the angel gowns exploded in the car headlights. And then their singing. It took discipline to move on and leave this top-of-the-world experience.
The Christ child in the manger was the next stop. It was awesome and solemn. I figured it was time to get back to the church and assume my role. But not yet. Before I got there, again I beheld a most beautiful site. It was an image of the wise men under a grand star occupying a whole side of a large barn. And by the road, King Herod and his entourage asked me to tell them where the new king could be found.
Finally I arrived to be greeted by Santa and all his working elves.
Barrett emphasized that the Holy Spirit must be central to this project. She admonished all to pray.
Where did all these “travelers” come from? Even though the rest of us tried, I am convinced that Barrett individually called many of her personal friends from neighboring communities to come — and they did.
Hardins Creek came together for this project. All helped in many roles: costume makers, actors, bakers, advertisement creators and deliverers, sign painters and illuminators, and those who hung the bright stars, along with the incredible achievement of Christmas music being played at the church and, low and behold, enabling travelers to tune their radios to hear the same music in their cars.
The family of this little church had indeed found the Holy Spirit. Just by the togetherness during the frigid two nights, they found they were enjoying each other again. By our outdoor conversations, we were learning the true significance of the season, as we do every year.
My reverie and appreciation were interrupted by Santa, “Hey, are we going to have enough candy canes?” he asked. “I need some more!”
Nellda Friend is a Leesburg area resident and a former Times-Gazette employee.