By Robert Lucke
Most of the time, Betty Knudson lives and breathes tacos. Being the owner of Taco Time, that is just the way it is. However, this time of year, the tacos take second place to her passion -- the living Nativity that has been in action on Fifth Avenue behind the Van Orsdel Methodist Church in conjunction with the community tree lighting and Christmas Stroll.
For those who don't know, a living nativity, besides being a lot of work, is a manger filled with living people and animals trying their best to reproduce how the birth of Jesus could have looked on Christmas Eve.
This passion for a living nativity all started when Betty was a little girl.
"My fondest memories are of our church doing the living nativity in Buffalo, Wyo.," Knudson said smiling. "Those were the days when we had snow and it would be cold, but it was really something."
When Knudson moved to Chinook, she continued the tradition, working it out of the Methodist Church for four years. After moving to Havre, she has worked the nativity out of Van Orsdel for a reason that she knows immediately.
"I do this for a very self-serving reason," Knudson added. "It reminds me of my childhood."
In Chinook, Knudson made contact with Pam and Steve Parsons who supplied the animals early on. Still do in fact.
"We started in Chinook with one llama, an angel, wise men and Mary and Joseph."
In Chinook, some nativity members would actually walk down the streets of the town. That was really exciting, stated Knudson. Because of Havre traffic, she hasn't tried that here yet.
"It all takes lots of work for a two-hour performance," Knudson said. "It takes 60 persons and two sets of costumes for each character. The biggest problem is getting people to help. It is usually cold out and lots of people are out of town. If I don't get it all filled out, I just call and call until I do."
Worst experiences? The cold, Knudson remembers, with a shiver even yet.
"It was in Chinook and it must have been 40 below with the wind chill. We lowered each person's time to 10 minutes instead of 20 and the church was so far away that I had the extra costumes in my car. That was cold," Knudson offered.
Costumes are a problem, too.
"This year I hired an employee of mine to sew angel costumes, and last year I got all the large robes that The Salvation Army had," Knudson said. "Church people donate lots, too. Last year, someone gave a lot of burlap. That really comes in handy."
This year Gerald Anderson, Ron Knudson and Ray Toth have built a new manger for the nativity.
"Now we have our first modular stable," Knudson said, laughing.
Cold might be the worst enemy of a living nativity. But the good, even in bad weather, goes on and on.
"The comments are so great. Little kids especially. You know some have no idea that is where the baby Jesus was born. It is fun. It is self-serving," Knudson said.
Self-serving, yes, maybe, but one actor, who wasn't going to be here for the nativity this year, in enlisting a replacement, said to her friend, "You've just got to do it. It is such a spiritual experience."
"Eventually, we would like to add choirs and stuff," Knudson said. "That will be next. But a little bit at a time."
The stream of memories continues each year.
"The good memories, like the unexpected looks of people driving down Fifth Avenue. The comments are great. And the wonder of little kids and hearing Mom and Dad explaining it. Last year, it was raining and people were concerned. I said it was the best. Can you imagine what kind of weather Mary and Joseph went through?" Knudson asked.
And so the show goes on. It is going to be better and better. You have Betty Knudson's word on that.