The kids and teens at Quail Hollow Presbyterian Church know the scene well – women getting water from the local well, children playing tag in the background. It’s a simple scene, but a very important one, as it marks the opening to one of their favorite Christmas traditions.
It’s the 10th anniversary for the outside Christmas nativity at the church, an event church and community members alike have come to cherish. And while the scriptures that follow the birth of Jesus Christ stay consistent and the story lives on each year with the same traditions and prophecies, the youth actors and actresses at the church are always looking for ways to keep the excitement going.
For many kids at Quail Hollow Presbyterian, they start participating in the live nativity scene from birth, making their debut as baby Jesus himself. That’s the story for Charlotte Owens, a senior at South Mecklenburg High School, who actually starred in the role of Jesus before the nativity was moved to the church’s front lawn. She’s played many roles, from an angel to a dancer, Mary and most recently, Queen Herod, wife to the infamous King Herod.
“I’ve been baby Jesus all the way up,” Charlotte said. Each year, she looks forward to participating in the play because of the cast and crew she gets to work with and the influence the nativity has on the local community. “It’s just hanging out with the coolest people around, and even though it’s freezing, it’s just worth it. Knowing we get to show it to all those people, sometimes unless you display it on the lawn, the true meaning of Christmas gets lost.”
This year’s production will be held Dec. 15 and 16, Saturday at 6 p.m. and Sunday at 7 p.m. in the church’s front lawn, 8801 Park Road, and will feature not only kids from the church, but local farm animals. Paige Bartholomew, the director and organizer of the nativity, said this is her third year in the leader role where she helps coordinate details such as lighting, sound and casting.
“I have small children and they enjoy it and I can tell how much the community enjoys the production, so I get a lot of energy and feedback from everyone involved.”
For both her son and daughter, Bartholomew said the production helps the kids really understand the nativity story.
“It makes the story real for them and they can identify with it,” she said, “and when we talk about the nativity, they have really lived the story.”
Eleven-year-old Conner Gillis, a student at Smithfield Elementary, has spent his share of years as a shepherd in the nativity, a role that’s normally played by young boys and now his two younger brothers Cole and Carter. This year, Conner has his eyes set on a Wiseman.
“It starts with Jesus, and then usually you become a shepherd boy or angel for the girls,” Conner explained. “And then you have soldiers, Wisemen, dancers, women at the well, Rabbi and King Herod and Mary and Joseph,” he said, adding that although the roles seem to go by age, sometimes it’s also based on costume sizes.
That’s the case for South Mecklenburg junior Michael Navarro, who has played the same role for three years straight.
“I started off as early as I can remember as Joseph and when we went outdoors, I became a shepherd and then a Wiseman and then back to Joseph. I played Joseph for the past three years, which I like doing. There’s just a lot of interaction with the younger generations,” Michael said, adding that he also was chosen to play the role because the costume is near a perfect fit.
For Michael, this year’s nativity is even more special, as he helped restore the 10-year-old nativity set over the summer as part of his Eagle Scout project. With the help of other church members, Michael started with King Herod’s court and worked his way through the town buildings to the manger scene, making each piece stronger and safer as they went along.
Each presentation will last around 20 minutes and will be joined by free hot chocolate and cookies. The church asks that people bring their own chairs and blankets. Parking is available in the lot to the back of the church.