EAST COUNTY — Telling the story of Christmas has become a tradition for the Wiegand family, and many others like them at The Tabernacle Church.
But it’s not a story they simply read from a book; it’s one they help bring to life for thousands of spectators each year, when The Tabernacle hosts its annual Living Nativity, a drama of the story of Christmas.
“I like doing it because we are sharing God’s love; we get to help share what God did for us,” says 10-year-old Catherine Wiegand, who plays a shepherd in this year’s show. “I really like acting, as well, and I enjoy the fellowship with my friends.”
Her brother, Benjamin, 12, agreed, as he sat in costume with Catherine and his other siblings.
“It’s very, very good,” he says. “We are growing stronger as a family (because we do this together each year). I think it’s a great way to share Jesus with everybody, and it’s a fun show (to be in).”
Performances for this year’s Living Nativity start at 7 and 8 p.m. Dec. 13 through Dec. 16, at The Tabernacle, 4141 Desoto Road, Sarasota.
Now in its 26th year, The Tabernacle’s Living Nativity re-creates the Bible story of the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus, through drama. The cast includes more than 30 main characters, as well dozens of minor characters and a choir of about 50 angels.
Attendees of the performance also can enjoy cookies and other refreshments in a hospitality area and visit with animals, such as sheep, donkeys and camels that would have been around at the time of Jesus’ birth.
“It’s essentially the same set you saw (when we started),” says circus performer Tino Wallenda, who sets up the wiring and rigging for the show’s flying angels. “The mountain moved (from erosion), and a couple of the trees died. But we’ve overcome that.”
Leo Mascitto, a Tabernacle church member and employee, handles logistics for each year’s performance.
“You start from scratch every (year),” he says, noting each year he spends about four weeks assembling the set, which is put in storage after the performances have finished.
Hundreds of volunteers come together to help with the performance, assisting the public or handling behind-the-scenes tasks during the four-night event.
Many families from the Tabernacle, such as the Wiegand family, have been involved with the Living Nativity year after year. Many, including the East County’s Bo and Gina Medred, were original cast members.
Mascitto’s whole family also has been involved in the show since its inception. His son, Michael, who played baby Jesus as an infant, is taking college finals early just to come home from New York in time to participate in this year’s performances. His wife, Klara, and other grown children, Christina and Joe, continue to have roles in the cast this year.
Benjamin and Catherine’s mother, Sarah Wiegand, now 32, started performing in the show, first as an angel, when she was in the sixth grade. This year, she’ll join her husband and six children on set again.
“It’s become our family tradition,” she said, noting she and her husband, Lance, portrayed Mary and Joseph the years their children played baby Jesus. “We enjoy it.”
But, beyond the complexities of the set and coordination involved to make the show happen each year, Mascitto points out that the message and purpose of the Living Nativity has never changed.
“It’s the story of Christmas,” he said. “The whole narration is (the Bible story).
“Our commission is to spread the word,” he said. “I feel this is our gift to the community. There is so much of the commercial. We want to bring out the real meaning of Christmas.”
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].
IF YOU GO
The living nativity
When: 7 and 8 p.m. Dec. 13 through Dec. 16
Where: The Tabernacle Church, 4141 Desoto Road, Sarasota
What: Come watch the story of Christmas.
Details: Come watch a drama of the story of Christmas. Guests also can enjoy refreshments and a petting zoo.
By the Numbers
• 7 The greatest number of angels that flew in one performance of the Living Nativity 28 Number of main cast members in the show
• 68 Number of extra large pizzas ordered for rehearsal night last year
• 125 Number of cast members, including all nights, in the show
• 250 Total number of volunteers participating in the Living Nativity