More than 16,000 people will experience the true spirit of Christmas at Horizon Christian Fellowship's Living Nativity, which begins Dec. 18.
"We want to help people bring Jesus back into their Christmas," said David Menard, associate pastor at Horizon. "You can't leave without being in awe of what Jesus Christ has done for you."
What started as a small manager scene 14 years ago has grown to a masterful production with more than 800 volunteers helping build sets and depicting the story of Jesus, from the manger to the cross and beyond.
"It's a great way to see the Bible come to life," Menard said. "To see all these stories really did happen, these people really did walk the earth."
Each night, participants will enjoy camel rides, crafts, entertainment, hot chocolate and cider in a bustling Middle Eastern marketplace while they wait for their tour.
Then, visitors will pass through large squeaky gates and enter first-century Jerusalem.
For the next 45 minutes, a shepherd girl and Jesus narrate several scenes of his birth, death and resurrection acted out by church members.
Actors take their roles very seriously, and "learn scripture by memorizing their lines," Menard said.
The scene depicting the last supper and crucifixion are very powerful, Menard said.
"It's not unusual to see people moved very deeply," he said.
A small percentage of parents skip the latter, but the production is family friendly, Menard said. Also, Jesus continues to narrate so children understand that the actor on the cross is not really him.
At the end of the tour, everyone is invited to enjoy a full Mediterranean buffet dinner prepared by Horizon's head chef, Jacky Donaldson.
"A lot of people are hurting right now," Donaldson said. "We want them to feel warm and loved, and know this is a place they can come back to."
Producing the four-night event runs upwards of $100,000 and takes months to prepare for, Menard said. But the intrinsic benefits are well worth it - uniting the church community that rallies to produce the event, and providing a meaningful experience for the broader community.
The free event will take place Dec. 18 and 19 from 6 to 9 p.m. and Dec. 20 and 21 from 5 to 9 p.m. Horizon Christian Fellowship is located at 6365 El Apajo Road.