Live nativity keeps Christmas story fresh after 2016 years

PHOTO: Stable on the Strand hopes to immerse visitors in the Christmas story.

(ABC North Queensland: Nathalie Fernbach)

Eleven baby Jesuses, 11 Mary and Josephs, 20 wise men, three camels and about 900 supporting players.

Townsville's annual nativity recreation Stable on the Strand boasts quite a cast and is one of the city's most treasured Christmas traditions.

The event began 18 years ago at a local church and moved to the city's Strand Park in 2002 where it expanded to a recreation of not just the baby in a manger but the whole town of Bethlehem.

Each year it attracts about 45,000 visitors over five nights.

Spokesman Richard Hosking said more than 2,000 years after the fact, there continues to be interest in the Christmas story.

"Amazingly people really want to know what the story is and they want to share it with their children," Mr Hosking said.

"A lot of people who come to Stable on the Strand never go to church but there still is this yearning in people to explain why there is a joy in something that is very special at this time of year."

While many cities around the world have a nativity recreation, Mr Hosking said he did not know of any on the same scale as Stable on the Strand.

"We believe the uniqueness of Stable on the Stand is that so many churches get involved in doing it, we have got about 65 different churches of all different denominations combining together to put on this event."

PHOTO: Stable on the Strand attracts 45,000 visitors each year and involves about 1,000 volunteers.

(ABC North Queensland: Nathalie Fernbach)

Beyond 3D — making the Christmas story real

Robyn Frewen-Lord has held the role of the Mayor of Bethlehem at Stable on the Strand for a decade.

Ms Frewen-Lord said the interactive nature of the event immersed visitors in the story.

"We want them to come here and go beyond 3D — we want them to feel it, to touch it, to smell it, to live it," Ms Frewen-Lord said.

"We try to tell the story in a way that children will remember it because they have actually been a part of it, they have dressed as a shepherd and have gone looking for a baby."

"To tie the story together and to make it real — that is what we try to do."

PHOTO: Bethlehem mayor Robyn Frewen-Lord (L) said the event gets children to smell, touch and experience the story of Christmas.

(ABC North Queensland: Nathalie Fernbach)

Ms Frewen-Lord said there would always be some constants, such as the nativity scene, but the team evaluated the event each year to find new ways to create opportunities for interactivity.

"We have got live actors, we have got live animals … we are wanting to keep increasing that interactive facet of Stable on the Strand because it is unique," she said.

"In Australia and in a lot of western countries Christmas Day is a public holiday, one of the few days when most places close and I think it is really important for people to understand the meaning of the holiday."

PHOTO: Each year organisers try to find new interactive elements to include in the annual event.

(ABC North Queensland: Nathalie Fernbach)

Has the religious aspect of Christmas been lost?

Kia is a first-time visitor to Stable on the Strand and said she came along this year because her daughter was old enough to appreciate it this year.

Kia thought most people were not interested in the religious side of Christmas any more.

"I think it is more like the events that children can go to and see and interact with; I don't think many people know what the real story is behind Christmas anymore," she said.

Rebecca Malone has returned home to Townsville for Christmas and brought her four-year-old son along to see Stable on the Strand and learn about the story of Jesus.

Ms Malone said the religious side of Christmas was important to her and she hoped to teach her son about it.

"I think sometimes though the general public tend to maybe look towards faith when there is a crisis, and so it gives them hope in times of tragedy."

PHOTO: Rebecca Malone brought her son to Stable on the Strand to learn about Jesus.

(ABC North Queensland: Nathalie Fernbach)

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