Christmas Island, South Sound’s famous Christmas display, has found a new home in Maytown on vacant property owned by the Maytown Assembly of God.
The small church congregation of 55 that meets in a double-wide manufactured home at 2920 Tierney St. SW is the proud steward of an extravagant Nativity scene that features thousands of lights, angels with motorized wings, the three wise men and life-sized images of Mary, baby Jesus and Joseph, and a more-than-70-year history.
“Mary and baby Jesus are originals; Joseph is not,” noted church Pastor George Coley, a high-energy jack-of-all-trades who has maintained, repaired and displayed Christmas Island since 1998 — first at the Olympia Metro Church on Puget Street in Olympia and this year for the first time in Maytown.
This marks the fifth home for Christmas Island, which began in 1941 when lifelong Olympia resident Leonard J. Huber built a chapel, angel and Nativity scene in the front yard of his eastside Olympia home.
Over the years, the scenes grew, and so did the number of visitors. In 1959, Huber teamed up with the Olympia Chamber of Commerce to place the sacred scenes on a 285-foot raft in Capitol Lake. More than 100,000 people visited what became known as Christmas Island that first year. Over the years it received national attention as one of the more intricate and long-lived Christmas displays in the country.
Christmas Island moved to the parking lot of South Sound Center in 1982, and remained on display each year through the holidays until 1994. By then, it had survived two fires and numerous acts of vandalism, which continued after Coley took over as caretaker of Christmas Island in 1998 and placed it outside the church he pastored on Puget Street.
“There are some who don’t like the message, and they’re entitled to their opinions,” he said. “But hey, I wasn’t in their face with it. If they didn’t like, they didn’t have to look at it.”
When Coley took over as pastor of Maytown Assembly of God two years ago — five years after Huber died at 88 — Christmas Island moved to Maytown with Coley.
Coley remembers his family taking in the Nativity scene at the South Sound Center, sitting for hours at a time to soak up the peace and calm that sweeps over believers in the miracle of the Christ child.
“We’re the stewards of a vision that began with Huber more than 70 years ago,” Coley said. “I’m hoping that Maytown becomes the Bethlehem of Thurston County.”
Coley and church volunteers worked every weekend since July to prepare for Christmas Island’s Maytown unveiling. They rigged scaffolding to hold the life-size figures shaped from fiberglass and canvas. They mounted the 1-ton, stainless-steel star on a 40-foot pole to shine down on the Nativity scene.
The congregation also built an open-air fireside barn with a wood stove, benches and plenty of coffee, hot chocolate, hot cider and cookies for those who make the pilgrimage to Maytown from 5-10 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through December. The display is lit up and accented with Christmas music every night at dusk. For those who just want to drive by without stopping, there’s a circular driveway and donation box to greet them.
On Tuesday night after work, five members of the church congregation sat around a roaring fire in the barn, chatting like neighbors do, sipping coffee and casting glances at Christmas Island.
“It’s nice that we have enough room for it,” Maytown resident and church member Becky Turner said. “And the neighbors have been awesome.”
For more information about Christmas Island, go to maytownag.com.
BRASS BASH IS NEAR
Staying true to this column’s holiday theme, here’s a reminder that the 13th annual Fishbowl Christmas Brass Bash is set for 7-10 p.m. Dec. 19 at the Fish Tale Brew Pub in downtown Olympia.
Once again Olympia trumpeter Andy Omdahl has pulled together several fellow horn players to perform Christmas tunes in a jazzy, spirited performance guaranteed to get you in the holiday spirit.
And once again, the only cost of admission is a nonperishable food item or cash donation to the Thurston County Food Bank.
The food drive is organized by the “Fishanthropists,” a group of 25 or so professional women who got together in 2008 to mix philanthropy projects with good times.
Last year, the “Fishtas” gathered about 200 food items and $800 in donations from pub patrons. Donation boxes are already in place at the pub. There’s no rule against giving now, then giving again the night of the bash.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444