A Christmas Story

Speed down NE 96th Street in Miami Shores some nights and you might think you've seen a holiday miracle: camels standing patiently by the sidewalk, a tax collector nearby raking in the big bucks, a baby hanging out in a manger, angels descending from the sky. It's not street theater -- well, maybe it is, sort of. It's the Miami Shores Presbyterian Church's Living Nativity.

According to Jacquelyn Engstrom, co-director of the production, the 47-year-old extravaganza features ten scenes put on by 350 volunteers, one-third from the church's 750-member congregation, the rest from the surrounding communities. They work in two shifts during the two-hour show, managing the kitchen, checking people in, aiding with wardrobe and makeup. Some folks are on the thankless clean-up duty, picking up after the camels, goats, llamas, and assorted beasts, although Engstrom claims there is "not really a problem with that."

The brainchild of former pastor Rev. Dr. Calvin Rose, who used to import many of the production's animals from his Pennsylvania farm, the show has gone on every year except 1966 and 1967, when the church's dazzling modern sanctuary was being built. Sets, originally designed by church member Betty Date and updated by current congregants, are reused year after year, as are the lavish costumes. All that plus the fact that expensive camels (professional camel handlers play the wise men) come courtesy of a church member's circus account for the modest budget of roughly $10,000 a night. No need to hire professional actors either, as some folk have been typecast in the same roles for eons.

For Engstrom, who has been involved in the festivities since she was a child (beginning as an angel and now working behind the scenes), the two short days are "really rewarding." It's very likely the nearly 5000 people who get to witness the spectacle every year might think the same thing.

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Nina Korman
Contact: Nina Korman