Hudson — The Dec. 8 Hudson Holiday Walk will have something for everyone’s seasonal Christmas tastes as Bethlehem and the North Pole are represented by a tiny baby, wrapped in swaddling clothing, lying in a manger and a jolly Old Elf, dressed in a bright red suit, furry hat and black boots.
About 100 members of the First Congregational Church, 47 Aurora St,, will bring characters from the first Christmas to life in a living Nativity complete with baby Jesus, Joseph, Mary, wise men/women, shepherds, a variety of animals and a heavenly host of angels.
“We don’t have a silent Nativity,” said Dee Buchanan, children’s ministry director. “We purposely interact with the people, we’ll sing, and if someone has a baby, we ask them if they want us to have our Mary hold their baby and be pictured in the Nativity. Because we want it to be interactive and a time for everyone to pet the camel, talk to the characters and maybe be a part of it themselves.”
Being part of the Nativity embodies the hope and joy the birth of Jesus holds for Christians this time of year, Buchanan said.
Members of the church have been working for months to get the costumes ready and several will be erecting and dismantling the stable, making and repairing costumes and creating a variety of angel wings and halos, Buchanan added.
“There will be several different people playing Mary and Joseph,” Buchanan said. “We have five, one hour shifts — so the entire cast of characters changes out every hour.”
From 2 to 3 p.m. church staff will fill the majority of roles. From 4 to 5 p.m., the entire production will be staffed by church youth members.
Five babies will play the part of baby Jesus.
“Baby Jesus has a very flexible schedule — based on the baby’s willingness to participate,” Buchanan said. “We always have a stand-in baby Jesus for the times when baby Jesus isn’t feeling up to it. We never know for sure when the babies are coming or how long they will stay.”
Four-month old Elijah Zarges will be one of the babies playing Jesus.
“I was touched when Dee Buchanan asked me if Elijah could play the role of baby Jesus in the live Nativity,” Elijah’s mom, Kathy Zarges, said.
Zarges has helped with the Nativity costuming for two years.
However, Zarges’ role changed last year, Buchanan said.
“At the live Nativity last year she said ‘I’ve got the baby Jesus for next year’ as she was telling me she was having her baby,” Buchanan said. “She was so excited we had a big hug when she told me baby Jesus was on his way.”
Being the mom to one of the babies playing Jesus allows Zarges to contribute in “such a unique and meaningful way,” Zarges said.
“I am happy to do so, as one small way to help share the story of Christmas with others,” Zarges said. “It is an honor.”
Helping the actors get into costume and take their places among the props and animals helped the Nativity “come alive” in years past, Zarges said.
“But, when a real/live baby plays the role of baby Jesus, the real magic happens,” Zarges said. “Children and families are drawn in to the Nativity and can’t help but be reminded of the birth of Jesus.”
Zarges has brought her older children to the Nativity for two years, explaining to them “what it all means and why we must remember what Christmas is all about,” she said.
“They especially love it when there is a real baby playing Jesus,” Zarges said. “It makes it more real for them.”
The live Nativity is one of the highlights of the Christmas season for Zarges, she said.
“The First Congregational Church of Hudson brings the true meaning of Christmas to the forefront of the season by inviting the community to share in a live scene of the Nativity,” Zarges added. “The atmosphere is casual and festive, yet it reminds us of the difficult journey of Mary and Joseph so many years ago.”
Cindy Retterer and her husband, Peter, will portray Mary and Joseph for a time during the event. The Retterer’s daughter, Kate, 5, will be an angel, and their son, Colin, 10, will be a shepherd.
“We love it,” Cindy, who has dressed as Mary for two years, said.
Cindy, like Buchanan, grew up visiting a live Nativity scene, she said.
“It was a great way to kick off the holiday season for me as a child,” Cindy said. “And then, being able to bring my kids — it just brought such a visual to the story that they’ve heard for so long.”
Cindy believes a live Nativity scene is an important part of the season, she said.
“It gives people that visual,” Cindy said. “Especially in downtown Hudson, being on the Green, and having people come and experience, perhaps what it was like when Jesus was born with all these people coming from all over to see the baby.”
Cindy added a Nativity is also important to show people “the reason for the season and reminding them why it’s so important.”
The First Congregational Church began its live Nativity in the church courtyard in 2003. It was moved to the Green in 2005.
The church takes part in the Nativity for “a few simple reasons,” Buchanan said.
“We love the opportunity to offer our community a reminder of the birth of Christmas, and it is such a perfect day to do it,” Buchanan said. “It is a day when so many are out strolling along Main Street, being together as a family and shopping for the people they love and we have a great opportunity to be right there, in the thick of it, as people enjoy this beautiful season.”
Buchanan said there is also a selfish reason church members take part in the event each year.
“It is truly a fun thing to do as a church family — standing outside for an hour in whatever weather gets dished up, talking with one another and with the people who visit us is just plain fun,” Buchanan said.
And while the church strives to bring the Christmas message “in the most wonderful of way,” Buchanan “loves every part of Christmas,” she said.
“I love the hustle and bustle, I love the cookies, I love the dressing up, I love the lights and I love shopping for my family and friends,” Buchanan said. “And taking part in the live Nativity is just one more part of the festivities of Christmas.”