Christmas Island thrives in new location

Maytown Assembly of God welcomes visitors to Nativity scene for second consecutive year

ahobbs@theolympian.comDecember 25, 2013 

Christmas Island has found new life at Maytown Assembly of God, where the historical Nativity scene illuminates a rural patch of Thurston County during the holidays.

Pastor George Coley welcomes all to bask in the glow of a South Sound treasure, now in its second year at the church at 2920 Tierney St. SW. The nightly lights will stay on through Friday. Admission is free.

Olympia artist Leonard Huber created the original scene and figurines in 1941 for his east side home. The scene grew over the years, and in 1959, Huber teamed with the Olympia Chamber of Commerce to place the life-size figurines and animals aboard a barge in Capitol Lake.

More than 100,000 people visited the scene in its first year, and for several years, the scene’s lighting ceremony was a major community event. Olympia High School’s choir traditionally performed at the ceremony, which was attended by dignitaries including the governor and mayor, Coley said.

In 1982, Christmas Island took up residence at South Sound Center in Lacey, where it survived vandalism and fires before moving into storage in 1994.

In 1998, Coley and his father resurrected the scene at Olympia Metro Church on Puget Street Northeast. In 2012, the scene made its way south to Maytown, which Coley calls “the Bethlehem of Thurston County.” The church property includes a “fire barn” where visitors can warm up near a wood-burning stove as they gaze upon a massive star that hovers above the scene’s center angel.

“We’re very thankful to carry on this tradition,” said Coley, adding that the Maytown location takes the scene’s spiritual message “out of the shopping mall.”

Coley and volunteers start setting up the scene in August. Restoration is also an ongoing effort. The angels’ wings and canvas tunics have become brittle over the years. Coley repaints faces and fingers on the fiberglass figurines.

The scene is arranged differently than it was more than 50 years ago, but the spirit is the same. The church has added a few things, such as signs with Scripture passages.

Today, the church relies on donations to cover costs for storage and electricity. Last year, Christmas Island attracted almost 100 cars per night on weekends, Coley said.

“It just moves their hearts,” associate pastor Carolyn Chester said, noting that Christmas Island touches visitors of all ages. “Some are moved to tears.”

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869

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