As the rush of Christmas season threatens to overwhelm, one seasonal tradition in Havre offers a time for quiet, peaceful reflection Saturday evening.
This island of harmony in the chaos of Christmas preparation is the live Nativity scene put on by members of Van Orsdel United Methodist Church as an annual event in Havre since 1998.
With dramatic lighting glowing through the dark, church members take turns filling the traditional roles of the Nativity from Joseph and Mary to the three wise men and an angel, accompanied by an array of animals in pens. Christmas music plays softly in the background.
People gather along the fence and park along the street to take in the solemn and tranquil scene.
Ray Toth has been lead organizer of the live Nativity each year since it was moved to the Methodist Church from downtown Chinook. The original organizational group joined forces with the Havre church, bringing their expertise, and their animals, with them.
Toth said it takes 2 ½ to 3 hours to create the scene, setting up the stable, erecting posts and fence, scattering hay and straw and setting the lights. While that is going on, another group is preparing the hospitality room where participants can warm up and mingle with other church members and guests over warm drinks and cookies.
Though the animals, which include llamas, alpacas, sheep, a miniature donkey that has taken part every year, and a miniature horse, are free to roam their pens, the men, women and children taking part hold their positions, as still as they can, for half-hour shifts.
At staggered intervals, participants go back into the church, allowing the next person to don the costume and take his or her place. Even the angel who stands high above the scene and the crowd - raised to this lofty height in a hydraulic lift bucket provided by Schine Electric - is lowered to change out with the next person.
Toth said he and the other church members are proud to have had parishioners enthusiastic enough to fill each role every year, no matter the weather. Most of those who participate in the Nativity come back every year, he added, because they are moved by the experience, even in the years when the temperature is quite low.
"It's real meaningful," he said, adding that everyone who participates says they feel moved by the experience.
Many people stop to take in the scene, Toth said, some of them parking along the street and viewing from their vehicles and others walking up to the railing to feel a part of the scene.
As it always has been, viewing the Nativity is free to everyone, but this year free-will donations will be collected to support a larger effort to raise money to help cover the medical-related expenses of two Havre families with sick children: Tia and Kadence Kallenberger, sisters who have a disease doctors think might be muscular dystrophy, and Dylan Hendrickson, who is undergoing treatment in Seattle for Hodgkin's lymphoma.
The live nativity scene will be Saturday from 5 to 7 p.m. at 410 5th Ave.