In early November, it’s hard to start thinking about the holidays, especially about some of the activities our families may like to take part in. But one longstanding local tradition has been so popular, it just might make sense to get it on your calendar now.
A live nativity, long held in Draper, is making the move to Bluffdale this Christmas as hundreds of volunteers strive to make the Christmas story come to life.
The interfaith event will be held at the LDS church building located at 14400 South 2700 West from Monday, Dec. 1 through Thursday, Dec. 4.
The nativity, formerly put on by the Riverview Stake Live Nativity in Draper, is moving with its founder, Steve Buntjer, who changed his residence to Bluffdale earlier this year. Buntjer spends so much time working on the nativity that he wanted it closer to home, and Draper supporters were willing to give another community an opportunity to host it.
Buntjer started the nativity 17 years ago when he was a recently-called LDS bishop in a new, developing neighborhood. He saw the nativity as a powerful way to bring people together.
“I felt like we needed to give back to the community and be a part of their Christmas holiday. So we decided to create a gift that we could share with them,” he said.
What originally started with about 25 cast members and three or four animals in a small barn has grown into a large-scale production, including 120 different cast members each night, a wide variety of animals and dozens of authentic scenes from old Bethlehem.
Buntjer designed and built all of the scenery himself, with help from family and friends.
“I was a designer by trade; so all of our sets are Disney quality. The detail is amazing, and we have hundreds of authentic-looking props,” Buntjer said.
He said that most of the props are items he has found at Deseret Industries and repurposed or refurbished. All of the costumes are also handmade and authentic, created by his wife Cathy and his daughter Kelly Pack.
Over the years, different scenes have been added to enhance the experience and to give patrons things to enjoy while waiting to see the nativity.
Buntjer said that last year around 25,000 people came through the displays, so lines were often long and the wait could be over an hour.
“I try to give people something to see all the way along the line,” he said.
The first part of the nativity is outside, and there are a dozen different scenes to experience, such as a depiction of Isaiah, shepherds in the field, Mary and Joseph walking with a donkey and the three kings.
After entering the pavilion, the manger scene is accompanied by another dozen scenes, including the carpenter and his son working, basket weavers, a baker and a potter. Buntjer said that all the scenes work together to help create the atmosphere of old Bethlehem.
All of the cast members are trained to help create an authentic experience. There are recordings for sound effects to further bring old Bethlehem to life, but the only words spoken in the nativity are, “There’s no room in the inn.”
The event is interdenominational, both for those attending and for the cast of actors participating. Buntjer said that they have had interfaith casts for the past 12 years, bringing together different people with a common cause.
One year the three kings included a Catholic, a Muslim and a fundamentalist. Buntjer said that they had a great time together and that the interaction of various faiths is an uplifting and unifying experience.
“The goal is to create something that everyone can relate to. It is a wonderful spiritual experience for all who want to come,” he said.
The event is sponsored by the Bluffdale and Bluffdale South LDS Stakes and is free to the public. The event is open from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. each night.
Parking is available at the church building and at Bluffdale Elementary School across the street. The experience is also handicap-accessible.