MIDDLEBURG — For 11 years Karl and Tanya Hertzler have been telling the story of Christmas.
They tell it on a few acres of farm land with 40 of their friends and neighbors helping along the way.
They tell it no matter the weather, with bus loads of eager watchers and a few carriages of people, too.
And they tell it unashamedly.
The Middlecreek Farms Live Nativity has been taking place every Saturday so far this month, concluding with a performance tonight, Dec. 15.
“My husband Karl had the idea. He really started the whole thing,” Tanya insisted.
“We’re both involved. It takes 40 people to make this run. We have a core group of people who are with us the entire time.”
The farm is broken into sections, or scenes in which actors portray the story told in the Gospels of the Bible that chronicles Christ’s birth and the journey to Bethlehem of Mary and Joseph. The tiny town of Bethlehem comes alive as individuals are clothed in Biblical attire. Live animals and the smell of cool night air and hay make for a realistic experience. The prophet Isaiah, who proclaimed the birth of the Savior in the Old Testament, is the guide for the evening.
The clothing wasn’t always so realistic, Tanya jokes, and the program has come a long way in 11 years.
“We had used football helmets for the Roman guards,” Tanya said with a chuckle. Today they have costumes that have been ordered and fitted for the individual actors. An Amish woman from Mt. Pleasant Mills has been instrumental in making the clothing realistic as well, Tanya noted.
“We’ve really evolved,” Tanya said, noting the program has additional space and extra scenes. This year, they moved the sign-in area so that they were able to use the space for one more scene.
Karl said the group has only had to cancel one night in 11 years. Two years ago an ice storm made travel treacherous. The couple used to host the program four nights starting with the Saturday after Thanksgiving. This year they stuck to only December nights since Thanksgiving fell a bit early in November, Karl said.
Folks from various churches in Snyder County take part in the play, re-enacting each scene repeatedly all evening as tours come through their particular setting. The actors are chosen by Karl and Tanya. Mary and Joseph have been played by different people each year.
“The young lady this year is a blond,” Karl said, but her head covering should cover her golden locks. Younger actors are usually shepherds, Karl said, and then — as the years pass — those shepherds get upgraded to larger roles.
“This whole play works because you don’t have to know the whole play,” Karl said of the actors. Each actor must remain in his one scene and memorize that one portion.
Most importantly, Karl said, is the story itself, which Karl took straight from scripture.
“We do it because of the need for a real Christmas story. It’s different than your commercial Christmas. We emphasize the Savior of the world came as a child.” Tanya echoes her husband.
“We do it for the children — to show them the real meaning of Christmas. The story gives real joy. There is no joy without Jesus.” Among those coming out to experience this joy are returning visitors. Karl said most people bring their families every year. Last year the program was presented to more than 1,600 people in four nights. So far, Dec. 8 “was the biggest night we have ever had — at least 600 people attended,” Tanya said. “We could hardly keep up with the groups and didn’t finish up until 10 p.m. (an hour later than usual).”
Acres of farm land are set aside for parking. Buses and horse carriages carry passengers through the 45-minute program, making stops where they can walk through the scenes and experience it first-hand.
There are no plans to commence the live nativity, says the farming couple.
“People expect it,” Karl said, and so they will deliver.
If you go:
The Middlecreek Farms Live Nativity is always held the first three Saturdays in December. Middlecreek Farms is located two miles from the square in Middleburg on Route 522 South at 134 Farmhaus Lane. Call 837-3192 for more information.