This is the latest stop in the series 101 Things To Do. Each week through December 2020, we will select one place or activity around the region to highlight.
Nativity scenes are a holiday custom around the world. Seven years ago, a private collector donated hundreds of Nativity scenes to the Villa Maria Center near Frontenac, and the holiday season Festival of Lights was born.
“They had a Festival of Lights at their chapel for four years, and when they closed down, they asked if we could continue that tradition,” said the Rev. Stephen Gheen of Christ Episcopal Church Old Frontenac.
The Nativity scenes are from the Philippines, Peru, Vietnam and countless other countries. Each scene reflects unique materials and interpretations of the scene and is surrounded by candles and lights.
“The Festival of Lights is a celebration of light,” Gheen explained. “The light within us. The light in the universe. How we affect everything around us. The nativities are a big part of that, and we have lights set up with each Nativity, because Christ is the light of the world.”
The scenes are set up every Thanksgiving and left up until after New Year’s Day. The main celebration is on the Saturday evening after Thanksgiving, although visitors may see the Nativity scenes each Sunday or by calling Gheen for an appointment.
Gheen said the Saturday program isn’t “centered around religious things. It is a collection of many things. It is a multicultural, multinational, and Christian. It is pretty cool.”
The program includes several speakers as well as musicians and singers.
“We alternate between readings about the light and the singing,” Gheen said. “The program itself is so moving that you could hear a pin drop in here. Part of my welcoming speech is talking about this is about you. Listen. Absorb. Don’t applaud. Keep it quiet and just enjoy.”
Anyone is welcome to visit the church and see the Nativity scenes, but Gheen said it would be much more meaningful seeing them with the program.
The church accepts donations during the program, and all the money is donated to a local cause. One year it was donated to the Lake Pepin Legacy Alliance and another year it was donated to the Weekend Backpacks Program.
“It is not affiliated with the church, per se,” Gheen said. “It’s a festival for the community, a festival for all people.”
If you go...
Name: Nativity Scenes at Christ Church Old Frontenac
Address: 29036 Westervelt Ave. Way, Frontenac, Minn.
Hours: Saturday Nov. 30 evening and Sundays mornings between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Other times by appointment.
Admission: Free. Donations are accepted.