Bethel Park church continues drive-thru nativity tradition
Take 30 to 50 volunteers, a stubborn donkey, sweat equity, a sheep, 175 luminaries and a nice — mostly flat — parking lot and mix them all together.
The result? A chance to experience the Christmas story from the comfort of the car when Community of Christ church hosts its 23rd annual drive-thru live Nativity 6 to 9 p.m. Dec. 9 on the church grounds at 3472 South Park Road in Bethel Park.
The event, which takes an average of 15 minutes to drive through, includes 10 different stops that tell the story of events leading up to as well as the birth of Jesus Christ. The show takes place regardless of weather conditions.
“It gives people a chance to see what it might have been like,” said Jan Zeiger, a church member and one of the organizers of the free event.
All artificial lighting is turned off and 175 luminaries are placed around the parking lot. People are asked to turn their vehicle headlights off, but may keep their parking lights on as they drive through.
When entering the parking lot, visitors are greeted by a member of the congregation who hands out a narrative. From there, drivers will go past Caesar's palace, where they will witness the emperor being cooled by a servant with a fan.
“It may be 30 degrees outside, but he is still getting fanned,” Zeiger said.
Drivers then go past a market place that has rugs, flowers and food and then onto Herod's Castle, which Zeiger calls the “Big Castle.”
“It's big and gray with tiki torches and Roman soldiers,” she said. “There is also a table with a box on it and a tax collector demanding money from a poor person.”
Rounding the corner, Zeiger said, there is straw with the sheep — donated by a local farmer. Next to that is a grassy hill with angels telling people to go to Bethlehem.
At the main entrance of the church there are three gigantic handmade camels and three wise men bearing gifts. The next stop is the inn, where they are told there is no room.
“We have a live donkey there,” she said.
Once the inn is passed, there is the stable with twinkling lights. This is where Joseph and Mary are with the baby Jesus.
“We use a baby doll,” Zeiger said.
Community of Christ ends its drive-thru Nativity with the scene of a church and a sign encouraging people to go and worship at the church of their choice, she said.
Unlike some live Nativity displays, Zeiger said the actors can talk to people in the cars. They can also move around. If it gets too cold, some may go in and change costumes and roles, going from a shepherd to a soldier.
All of the Nativity props are stored on church grounds. Because most of the volunteers are already familiar with them, everything is set up the day of the event, she said.
The actors usually arrive an hour before the show, she added. Besides the church, Zeiger said some of their volunteers are from the National Honor Society at Bethel Park High School and at Seton La-Salle Catholic High School in Mt. Lebanon.
“When they arrive, it's all hands on deck,” she said.
Zeiger, who has been involved with the drive-thru Nativity since the beginning, said around 200 vehicles go through each year. People coming through are asked for a donation to help offset some of the show's costs.
“We don't make any money off of this,” she said.
Suzanne Elliott is a Tribune-Review staff writer. She can be reached at email@example.com or 412-871-2346.