Children dress up, learn about Jesus' birth at nativities fest

By Dave Kern, Columbian assistant metro editor

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photoA nativity from Italy was one of more than 600 on display at the 11th annual nativity festival at the church at 10509 S.E. Fifth St.

(/The Columbian)

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The Vancouver Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 10509 S.E. Fifth St. , has about 3,500 members, said Bear Smith of the church. He said the four stakes in the Vancouver area have more than 15,000 members.

Two-year-old Alex Smith looked darling as a lamb Sunday in the children’s costume room at the 11th Annual Festival of Nativities.

And his mom, Chrissy Smith, was aglow, taking photos of the lad.

Last December, Alex was in Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland with leukemia. He received a bone marrow transplant.

“Right now, we’re a year cancer-free,” said Chrissy, of the Ellsworth neighborhood. “I’m really grateful to be home with my family … overwhelmed and grateful.”

Chrissy was at the festival with her sister, Jocelyn Dixson of La Center, who was there with her son Tyler, 6. He dressed as a shepherd for the family photo. The other shepherd in the photo was Zack Smith, Alex’s 5-year-old brother.

“Our mom (Renee Rhyasen) was one of the founders of the nativity festival,” Jocelyn said. “She’d take our house (decorations) up here and decorate.”

“Here” is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 10509 S.E. Fifth St.

With more than 600 nativities from around the world to see, the festival is a must for many families.

“It’s a great way to show them multicultural ways and to celebrate

the holidays and the birth of Jesus,” Chrissy said. “It’s so nice to see traditions still. There’s not a lot of that.”

Nearby, Emily Crespin, 25, watched as her daughters, Ariel Castellano, 5, and Celine Crespin, 2, admired a nativity from Italy.

“They like this one because it’s sparkly,” Emily said. She said the festival is valuable because, “It helps me to teach the kids of the birth of Christ. It helps take the focus away from presents and material things.”

She added, “The variety of nativities keeps them interested.”

There were more than 600 nativities to admire, said Coleen Collins, chair of the festival. She said the festival succeeds on many levels, and noted, “It’s a free event and children are welcome.”

Bear Smith, a high counselor at the stake, said on Sunday that more than 3,000 persons attended the four-day festival.

Asked what message he hopes the festival sends, Bear Smith said, “We’re Christians … and sometimes that gets lost.” And, he said, the festival “ties us closer to the community.”

Steve McAllister, public affairs representative of the church, noted the west stake in Hazel Dell has a similar three-day festival around Easter called “The Life of Christ.”

The two events are aimed to show that “we are followers of Christ, and that’s the overarching message,” McAllister said.

On Sunday, there was much happiness in the children’s costume room.

Stephanie Vombaur, 35, of the Harney neighborhood, brought her five girls and a neighbor girl.

“It’s so much fun,” she said of the festival. “We come each year and the kids dress up.”