Beneath the glow of the Star of Bethlehem, the story of Christmas has come alive for more than four decades on the hill near Hannibal First Church of the Nazarene.

Beneath the glow of the Star of Bethlehem, the story of Christmas has come alive for more than four decades on the hill near Hannibal First Church of the Nazarene.

Pastor Jason Young said the event has shared the same spirit since it began 42 years ago. On Thursday, Dec. 21, volunteers of all ages donned costumes to portray angels, shepherd, the three wise men, Mary and Joseph. A model of Baby Jesus laid swaddled in the manger, as wise men offered their gifts. Shirley Johnson McIntosh recalled the beginnings of what has become a Christmas tradition each year.

She said she and her husband, Dwayne Johnson, started the event with the help of the older teenagers in the congregation. She said the event began with snacks being served in the church undercroft as the realistic scene came alive outside. After the teenagers grew up, adults in the congregation took the helm.

“It’s been amazing to see that it’s lasted this long, because things start and they quit,” she said. “But it’s been great and it’s just such a good spirit. And everybody here — they enjoy it, and you have to enjoy it to make the meaning of it.”

Young said many members of the church come out multiple times to participate in the scene, and children enjoy portraying different roles each time. He said the event is set up to accommodate up to 15 angels on the hillside and 10 shepherds, along with the three wise men, Mary, Joseph and a shepherd and angel surrounding the Jesus in the manger.

“We talked about one year where it was really foggy out, and we had 20 or 25 angels on the hill,” he said. “And the fog started to lift, and it looked like the Bible story.”

Young said volunteers all work together to assemble the set, arrange the lights and loudspeakers and set up the ornate costumes about one week before the showings on Thursday, Dec. 21 through Saturday, Dec. 23. Downstairs, volunteers served a meal including roast beef, mashed potatoes, beverages and desserts.

“The young kids grow up playing in it, and then pretty soon they’re helping out,” he said. “You never really have to teach anything, because people just come and get involved. It’s really neat.”

In a room bustling with activity, members of the Kirkham family smiled as they assembled their costumes to take on their new personas: Kendall Kirkham portrayed Mary, and her husband, Mike, took on the role of Joseph. She said their three children looked forward to joining the event each year, with Michael and Haley as shepherds and Sydney as an angel — and sharing what Christmas is all about.

“It’s really nice to see the traffic all slow down and watch, and they hear the story coming from the speakers. And the other thing I like is when people get out of the car and little kids come up. You hear their parents telling them about Jesus’ birth and the stories. It’s just really cool,” Kirkham said.

The Live Nativity’s third showing will take place from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, at Hannibal First Church of the Nazarene, at 4000 West Ely Road. Please visit http://www.hfirstnaz.org or call 573-248-0145 for more information.

Reach reporter Trevor McDonald at trevor.mcdonald@courierpost.com