Camels in Eastern Idaho? Not much else catches attention quite like a trio of camels in a church parking lot in Eastern Idaho.
The Idaho Idaho Falls Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints put on a live nativity in Blackfoot and Shelly, Idaho. In coming days, their traveling live nativity will stop in Iona on Dec. 5, Rigby on Dec. 9, Idaho Falls on Dec. 10 and 11 and Rexburg on Dec. 18.
The nativity is approximately 10 minutes long and will show on a loop from 6 to 8 p.m.
Per COVID-19, this nativity is a drive in nativity, allowing those who want to watch to stay in the comfort and warmth of their cars. After each 10 minute showing, the cars are ushered out and a new group is led into the parking lot, keeping the flow going the whole evening.
This nativity was spearheaded by President Matthew Hurley, the mission president of the Idaho Idaho Falls Mission. President Hurley and his family started doing a live nativity five years ago in their home state of Pennsylvania.
“One Christmas morning I dressed up our youngest three children,” President Hurley said. “We had a pet donkey, and we walked him down the road from our house, and so many people stopped and took pictures and blew the horn and I said, ‘next year we’re doing a live nativity.’ So, we did one in front of our business. And we had over 1,000 people come out, it was a big hit for the community. And so we just continued.”
Earlier in the year, the mission decided to do the nativity to give to the community, but plans changed when COVID-19 hit. President Hurley still wanted to find a way for people to enjoy the nativity despite the pandemic.
Adjustments were made and the mission worked out a way for the nativity to be held in a safe way. President Hurley paused to regather his thoughts as he expressed his passion and a deep emotional connection to this nativity and the message it sends.
He said that because of everything being canceled this year, he wanted to bring some familiarity to people’s Christmas season.
“It’s been great,” President Hurley said. “It’s been one miracle after another.”
The nativity is complete with missionaries and locals playing the parts, a set with a star, music and all of the animals. They have camels, a donkey and sheep all interacting as part of the nativity.
Jeral Williams, from Ucon Idaho, provided the animals for the nativity. He said that his camels attract a lot of attention for nativities each year. They have 13 nativities this year that their animals participate in.
“It makes them feel more like they come to live action nativity, like they are there. They can see the camels come in, they can see Mary riding the donkey,” said Jeral Williams. “I think it helps them to relive it. The animals bring special spirits.”
Fourteen thousand people came to the first night showing. The radio sound is available in Spanish and English.
Elder Dallin Williams, one of the missionaries helping in the nativity, said this experience has been fun for him. He is new to the mission field and his role in the nativity is different than anything he expected to do as a missionary.
“I just lead and handle the camels, nothing glamorous,” said Dallin Williams. “I actually got here Tuesday so I wasn’t really expecting to do this on (my) mission, like it’s a camel. Who gets to lead a camel on their mission?”
Sister Rebekah Lipman, one of the social media missionaries said that there has been a lot of work put into preparing for the weeks of performance, especially due to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases.
“We’re super excited for everyone to see it,” said Lipman.
Local residents played the part of Mary and Joseph in each area. They and the missionaries were part of the nativity and have spent hours practicing and rehearsing. The nativity is meant for all denominations.
“Our hope for this is that people who’ve been impacted by the COVID-19 virus can be able to remember more peaceful times, and remember their Savior.” Lipman said. “Even when things are going crazy … there’s always peace and there’s always hope and that they’ll always be better times ahead.”