Celebrating Christmas at LDS Church sites in Kirtland

Published: Sunday, Dec. 19 2010 7:00 a.m. MST

LDS Church history sites that dot the eastern half of the United States all prepare for Christmas with lights, Nativity displays and other decorations. This week Mormon Times highlights Christmas at LDS Church historic sites from Sharon, Vt., to Nauvoo, Ill.

KIRTLAND, Ohio — More than 700 nativities, thousands of lights and Christmas trees with handmade decorations of dried flowers, fruit and herbs greet visitors at the LDS Church's visitors' center in this town of 5,000 in northern Ohio.

And there is something else that greets them, too, in this community whose motto is "city of faith and beauty."

"When people walk into the visitors' center, they are just greeted with the Spirit," said Elder Roger Butterfield, the director of Historic Kirtland and the John Johnson home in nearby Hiram, Ohio.

The display, titled "Wise Men Still Seek Him," is also listed on the American Bus Association's 2011 list of Top 100 places in the United States.

During the summer months, more than 20,000 people pass through the restored village, and about 90 percent of those are Mormons, Butterfield said.

Last year, more than 7,000 visitors came through the Christmas displays, which are open from the day after Thanksgiving through Dec. 30.

"The miracle is that 85 percent of those are our nonmember friends," Butterfield added.

Last year, those visitors included nuns from a convent in Chardon, Ohio.

"The nuns came by in droves to see it," he said.

After looking at the displays around the visitors' center, "one of the nuns came downstairs and said 'Who can't feel the Spirit here?'"

A room upstairs has costumes and props where children can dress up and re-enact the nativity scene.

Grandparents will come and tour the displays and say they'll come back with their grandchildren.

"And they do," Butterfield said.

When the display first started eight years ago, members of the Kirtland Ohio Stake loaned their nativities, and now the display includes nativities on loan from members of the community.

"It turned into a community event," said Stephanie Marra of the Hiram Ward, who heads up the committee that handles the displays. "So many more people come in from the community" and ask for their nativities to be displayed.

One of those from a local resident and new this year, made from olive wood, belongs to an 85-year-old man who asked if they would display the 6-foot-by-6-foot scene.

"We accept everything as long as we don't already have two or three of them," Marra said.

Inside the reconstructed Red Schoolhouse are nativities representing different international cultures, and the uniquely made displays are crafted from a variety of materials, including newspapers and braided aluminum from cans.

"We have some that represent all languages and cultures," Marra said. "It shows how all countries represent the Savior's birth."

e-mail: rappleye@desnews.com

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