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Christmas Eve story brought to life at Maris Grove

Residents portray living tableau

Created date

November 20th, 2012

Like many activities at Maris Grove, a program that began as a grassroots effort by residents has become a tradition at the Erickson Living community in Delaware County, Pa. The event is the annual Christmas Eve cantata that features a portrayal of the Christmas story by community residents. The idea came about when Toni Kaufman realized that her neighbors who didn t have family in the area spent Christmas Eve on campus, but Maris Grove had no Christmas Eve programming. So the following year, Toni drew on her musical background and produced a simple program of holiday songs. The next year, she mounted a more ambitious musical performance. I found this cantata that told the story of the first Christmas in song, she says. People loved it. That reaction planted the seed for a much-expanded program, says Toni. I thought, why not present the cantata as a living tableau.

A growing tradition

She enlisted neighbors as actors and production assistants: Joe Ennis helped paint a cardboard stable, Eleanor Gentile sewed costumes, and woodshop members made wooden sheep. Two years ago, the woodshop added a donkey. Last year, Dick Burke made a wooden stable, and Marie Massimiano painted cherubs gazing at baby Jesus. Produced entirely by residents, the cantata now plays to standing room audiences in Maris Grove s 350-seat nondenominational chapel. Toni s husband John reads the narration, Maris Grove s fellowship choir and men s chorus sing the Christmas cantata, and the actors pantomime the story. A resident s granddaughter portrays the angel. People bring their families, Toni says. They have dinner together in a Maris Grove restaurant and then go to the program. And it s for everyone. The music appeals to people regardless of religious affiliation. The songs are unique; one even has a calypso beat.

Living their faith

Residents who participate in the tableau, like Ken Horton, feel honored to do so. Ken participates in many campus activities, including all three of Maris Grove s choral groups, but portraying one of the Magi carries special significance. When he was a child, Ken had bronchial pneumonia and almost died. My whole family prayed, and I was up the next day, he says. His relatives called the recovery a miracle. From that time, Ken s been enthralled with Biblical stories, especially the manger story. For Gus Peters, portraying St. Joseph is a way to live his Catholic faith. He also says the cantata underscores Maris Grove s family spirit because it takes place on campus. There are a number of people who can t get out to their own church, says Gus. This might be their church service. His wife Johanne also contributes to the program. She and other members of Maris Grove s Chrismon group beaded and embroidered enough ornaments featuring white and gold Christian symbols to decorate two Chrismon trees and wreaths. Standing like sentinels in the chapel s narthex on Christmas Eve, the trees light the way to the cantata.