Nativity Walk displays 300 views of Christmas story

First Presbyterian in 10th year of hosting event

Leader Photo by Carol Ryczek St. James Lutheran School first graders, from left, Nieve Perez, Cameron Rohan, Levi Bartz, Carter Ebert and Brody Wright, along with teacher Emily Hendricks, look at nativity scenes from all over the world at the Nativity Walk at the First Presbyterian Church in Shawano. The 10th annual walk continues through this weekend.

Spread out across the pews of the First Presbyterian Church in Shawano are 300 expressions of Christmas that are as alike as they are unique.

The church is celebrating the 10th year of its Nativity Walk, which features nativity scenes of every imaginable style. Each set contains the features of a traditional nativity scene: figures of Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus, usually in a stable. Arranged with them are figures of animals, kings, shepherds and angels.

The format has remained the same since it was first created by Saint Francis of Assisi in 1223 at Greccio, Italy. Although the basics are the same, the interpretations are as personal as the creators or owners.

At the Nativity Walk, sets range in style from modern carvings to traditional ceramics. There is a mouse nativity, a Guatemalan nut with the holy family carved in 3D; cross-stitch figures and a hand-carved wood set created as a gift from grandfather to grandchild. One set is made out of frosting.

Whether artistic or fanciful, they are all there to tell the Christmas story.

Nativity sets are arranged throughout the church on burlap-covered planks across the church pews. The lighting is dim, and Christmas carols play in the background as nativity images scroll on a screen.

The intent was to create an atmosphere of peace, said Kay Schroeder. She and fellow parishioner Ed Moede are the chairs of the event, now in its 10th year. The sets are loaned to the church for the exhibit and come from the congregation, friends, and visitors.

In its 10-year run, there has never been a nativity set that was not welcomed, he said, but there have been some that have had memorable stories.

One woman offered five unusual nativities, to her husband’s horror.

One was in an empty can from a canned ham.

“She brought it out, and her husband said, ‘I don’t want that thing leaving the house. It is a disgrace.’ She told him to be quiet and gave it to me. The third one she had was a little rectangle with just the baby Jesus and Mary. She told me she had made a whole set, put it in the oven to cure and it blew up. This is all that was left. The husband said, ‘I don’t want that thing leaving the house. It’s a disgrace,’” Moede recalled.

“But she told him to be quiet and I took them. When he came to look at them, he went around three times in his wheel chair. He spent 15 minutes just looking at her pieces, he was so proud of them,’” Moede said.

The Nativity Walk grew from an idea that Schroeder saw in a magazine. The first year, they hoped to have 50 nativity sets. They got 96. This year, the number is up to 300.

“People loved it,” Moede said of their first walk. They expanded the event from one night to four.

Because the Nativity scenes occupy the church pews, the Sunday service is held in the fellowship hall and ends at the nativity walk, Moede said.

Schroeder said she felt that the church was an ideal location to offer a religious option to the annual downtown Santa parade.

“Christmas is not all about Santa, it’s about Jesus’ birth,” she said.

The Nativity Walk is at the First Presbyterian Church, 100 W. Presbyterian St., Shawano. It will be open from 4-8 p.m. Friday, and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The event is free.