RIO RANCHO, N.M. – The first nativity scene, a “living” one, has been associated with Saint Francis of Assisi, the Italian Roman Catholic friar and preacher. Inspired by a trip he had taken to the Holy Land, he created a nativity scene in 1223 to help people focus more on worshiping Jesus Christ and less on the commercial aspects of the Christmas season.
Ellen Hatala, Director of Public Affairs for the Rio Rancho New Mexico Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, told this story at a VIP event for the “Festival of the Nativity” at her church’s building at Loma Colorado Boulevard NE.
Community leaders and representatives from multiple faiths attended this opening celebration and dinner on Friday, December 2. Some of the dignitaries included Rio Rancho Mayor Greggory D. Hull; Rio Rancho Public Schools Administrator Gary Tripp; the Reverend Charles E. Becknell of the Emmanuel Missionary Baptist Church; LDS Rio Rancho New Mexico Stake President Casey C. Allman, who hosted the “Festival of the Nativity” event; Steven Woodbury, Director of Music at the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church; and LDS President Timothy B. Guffey of the New Mexico Albuquerque Mission. John Clark, of the St. Francis Episcopal Church, provided prelude music on the organ, and the Tapestry Women’s Choir presented a musical program.
The “Festival of the Nativity,” organized by Ellen Hatala, was open to the general public on Saturday, December 3, and Sunday, December 4, and showcased hundreds of nativity scenes from all over the world. They were made of diverse materials, such as wood, glass, clay, paper, needlepoint, porcelain, stained glass, and fabric. Some were small miniatures while others were larger ornate pieces; some were simple, perhaps even monochromatic, and others were more colorful. One Native American display featured baby Jesus sleeping in a cradle-board at the entrance of a tipi. A Japanese nativity consisted of simple shapes, with Joseph and Mary dressed in kimonos. An Eskimo scene included the babe in a manger outside an igloo, with parents dressed in warm hooded coats, and a moose and white seal in attendance.
Musical numbers throughout the weekend were performed by the Emmanuel Missionary Baptist Church, Presbyterian Choir, LDS Bell Choir, Young Single Adult Choir, St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Choir, St. Thomas Aquinas Children’s Bell Choir, LDS Youth Choir, Star Height’s Men’s Choir, LDS Missionary Choir, and others.
In the spirit of the season, this event brought together people of different faiths who worship the same Savior of the world. As Hatala expressed in her opening remarks, “We may have different doctrines, but we all believe in the same Jesus Christ.”
Photographs by Deborah Fillerup Weagel and Jeanette Valenti.