The First United Methodist Church makes the holiday spirit come alive with their Live Nativity that they offer to the general public during the Christmas season. Held for the past three years, Rev. Ron Johnson began the event after witnessing a similar show in another town.

Play director Evie Sime takes me through the process of getting the event ready for public viewing. The Live Nativity, offered in two performances, has been in the format of a play in the past. Though plans are still underway for this year’s performance, it is thought that the format will continue to follow a similar suit.

Arrangement of the animals is one of the most important factors in the performance preparation and starts six months in advance. Sime credits the Denny and Kerry Post family for bringing their goats, sheep, camels, cows and donkeys that are used in several nativity plays around the region. Before leaves begin to change colors in the fall, Sime has already started assisting with selecting and writing a play script and seeking out volunteers to play the dozen roles of the cast.

Rehearsals begin shortly after the cast is selected. After several rehearsals, the spoken audio of the cast is recorded and Lisa Larson mixes it with music provided by the church’s choir, praise team, children’s choir and bell choirs. Todd Carr generously assisted with sound the first two years until the church obtained a portable sound system which has been run by Matt Pietz.

Many hands are involved in making this beautiful display take place. Aside from cast members, many volunteers assist with spectator parking and seating assistance during performances, bringing in hay bales and providing cookies and other refreshments. The Sunday school children are involved in helping with the programs, being animal handlers and making luminaria. Last year the church was able to provide an American Sign Language interpreter, Jeannie Kasik. A crèche, or statues that represent Jesus Christ’s birth, that Nick Kisch built the first year continue to be displayed every year.

Sime recalls a few memorable events with the Live Nativity. During her first year, she remembers being stepped on by an ornery cow, exclaiming, “I had a black toenail almost until the following year’s nativity!” The incident didn’t deter her from helping the second year, though she recalls her final play preparations being a bit more challenging while several months pregnant with a son due that coming January.

Mother Nature’s unpredictability has required them to hold some performances in fiercely frigid winters or in thick mud due to early thaw. The weather isn’t the primary memory that stands out to Sime, though. “Mostly, I remember the people I worked with, the trust we all had in each other, and the feeling that we were all in it together,” she explains.

Several families have played parts in the Nativity every year since it’s origination, Sime appreciating those that are always willing to assist when asked. She acknowledges Steve Pietila, the McCorkell family, the Enfield family, the Herrmann family and Rick Peterson for their assistance.

The Live Nativity is part of the church’s outreach and evangelism and the general public is encouraged and invited to attend. Their hopes are to encourage individuals that may not attend church to try out one of their Sunday services. Any costs to cover the animals’ travel, costumes and props are covered by freewill donations that are collected during the Live Nativity.

Anything additional is donated to a local charity, the organization chosen varying from year to year.

To find dates and times of the Live Nativity, please visit the First United Methodist Church Yankton Facebook page or their website at when the holiday season nears. When the holiday season gets off to a start, let the Live Nativity add some warmth to your heart!