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Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Return to Calvary Baptist Church

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By Jorge Casuso

November 24, 2021 -- The life-size nativity scenes that have been a holiday tradition in Santa Monica since 1953 will return to Calvary Baptist Church December 11.

The 14 quaintly anachronistic scenes -- which have weathered funding crises, changes in public taste and a near-fatal attack from atheists -- will line the south side of Broadway once again from 19th Street and continue south along a brief stretch of 20th Street.

Jesus in Santa Monica Nativity Scenes
Baby Jesus in Santa Monica Nativity Scenes (Courtesy Nativity Scenes Committee)

For those who want to take in the scenes by foot, metered parking is available on the street and there is limited parking in the church parking lot, organizers said. The scenes will be on display through January 3.

"The past year has created challenges for everyone in our community, and our hope and prayer is that we could be a beacon of hope to those that are feeling hopeless," said Zachary M. Scribner, chairman of the Nativity Scenes Committee.

"We are deeply thankful to the people of Calvary Baptist Church, their Church Council, and their pastor for providing a home for the Nativity Scenes for another year," Scribner said.

The dioramas created with mannequins and elaborate backdrops depict key scenes in the Christmas story -- from the Annunciation and Joseph's dream to Herod’s court and the flight of the Holy Family to Egypt.

Launched in Palisades Park in 1953, the displays were meant to "spread love in the community" and lure holiday shoppers to the beachside city, according to the Committee.

Despite subsequent funding woes, the scenes remained a yearly tradition lining Palisades Park thanks to donors who stepped up.

Then in 2011, a group of atheists swamped City Hall with applications for its own displays, and after 57 years the nativity scenes found themselves without a home.

A year later, Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Ocean Park took them in, and in 2017 the predominantly black Calvary Baptist Church became their home.

By then, the wooden booths that had housed the displays for 30 years had rotted and were tossed and the scenes were whittled down from the traditional 13 to 12, then 11.

In 2019, the full 14 displays depicting the "true story of Christmas" lined the street outside Calvary Church once again, and will do so again this year.

The Nativity Scenes Committee is seeking donations to help weather the economic downturn due to the Covid shutdown.

"The past year’s struggles have impacted the Nativity Scenes in a significant way," Scribner wrote in a letter to the community. "Financially, we need your help to continue this timeless tradition.

"Contributions are strictly used to meet display expenses, which include: setup and takedown, transportation, liability insurance, and storage during the off-season," Scribner said.

"We sincerely thank all who have given in the past, and we ask for your continued (or first-time) donation," he said.

Donations can be made by clicking here or by check via mail.

Donors should send your check payable to the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee to P.O. Box 0648, Santa Monica, CA 90406-0648.

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