A shared desire to bring back something authentic about Christmas drew two friends, Sharon Schartz and Dr. Catherine Strecker. Together they created a tradition the people of Ellinwood have been celebrating together since 2007.
“We were wanting to bring back religion and family,” said Schartz. “Before that, it was just the holiday open house and shopping.”
They pulled out all the stops to attract families, from having live animals and providing hot cocoa and s’mores. The friends look forward to casting 20 to 25 children from the community at large to play parts from angels to wise men. There are no fees, no dress rehearsal, and no stress, Schartz said. Some have taken part several years in a row.
All three of Spike and Amy Hammeke’s children, Nathan, 8, Monica 11, and Alex, 13, will be taking part in the living nativity this year. Last year, Monica was the only participant. Most of her friends also took part, and it was so much fun, brother Nathan has begged his mother all year long to be part of it, Hammeke said. Brother Alex will be the narrator of the Christmas story this year.
“So much about Christmas is commercialized, but this is a nice reminder of the purpose of the holiday,” she said. “It gives a nice, religious aspect.”
Looking back at the nativities of the past, each year there was a little something new and different.
“It’s all authentic,” Schartz said. “They don’t have dress rehearsals. It all comes so naturally for them.”
“Whether or not they remember their lines or not, having the kids here, and that unity with the animals -- it’s special,” Strecker said. “It just brings goose bumps the night of the performance.”
In the past, babies have been part of the production, playing the part of the baby Jesus. This year, Ellinwood couple Kyle and Julie Chamberlain recently started a family have agreed to share baby Chamberlain for this year’s production.
Karen Bookout, mother of Caleb, 12, said “We’ve always encouraged our kids to be part of the community activities,” said Karen Bookout, mother of Caleb, 12, who will be part of the tradition this year. “Most of them need adults, but this is something the kids could do.”
Caleb has an older brother, now 21, who also took part in the living nativity in years past.
Schartz and Strecker said without the help of so many in the community, the living nativity would not be possible. The city has generously provided the lights and music, and American Legion Post 320 Commander Rob Fisher has provided the hot cocoa and cookies for the kids following their performance. St. John Lutheran Church provided the costumes, and a host of area families have provided the animals and their handling.
The living nativity will take place right after the City of Ellinwood tree lighting ceremony at the Wolf Park band shell at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. Arrive at the tent next to the American Legion Post 320 at 117 E. Santa Fe Blvd. and stay for the many other activities planned for Ellinwood’s Christkindlemarket celebration.