The sun was setting, the Catalina Mountains were aglow, and Floyd the spitting llama was safely tied up against the fence. The three angel girls were spotlighted atop the hill.
One of the sheep had broken loose and was running wild. Mercy Huss borrowed a shepherd's crook from Caroline Finster, cornered the wayward lamb, hooked its neck with the wooden hook, guided it down from the hill, then tied it next to its brethren.
The live Nativity must go on.
Many young people nowadays spend the last few days before Christmas enjoying their school break, shopping in the malls and dreaming of the presents they'll receive. In Catalina, last Saturday night, a special group of young people re-enacted the Nativity, the story of the birth of Jesus. Performed and narrated by the children, the live performance was free and open to the public.
"This is our third year, but our first in Catalina," said Mercy Huss. "The last two years, we used the performances as fund-raisers for worthy causes, this year it is just a fun raiser."
Principal sponsors of the live Nativity are the Huss and Crowther families, although other children and parents participate. The event in Catalina was held at the spacious Huss estate, which has a spectacular view of the Catalinas, plenty of room, ample parking space and two large, friendly white dogs.
Christy Huss, a freshman at Canyon Del Oro High School, helped assemble the hay bale stable, created and painted the block wall backdrop and helped with the play preparation. She seems to have inherited her work and organizing skills from her father, Conrad, who makes his living as an engineer working for a company that builds and designs telescope facilities around the world.
Brent Crowther is controlling the spotlight, while his wife Kayle encourages and coaches the children during a practice run. Their children — Meghan, Riley, Andrew and Eli — are all participants in the re-enactment.
The children rehearse their parts in a diligent, respectful manner. The sun sets. There will be three performances. Cardboard signs have been posted along the roads. It is all very informal. Chairs are set out for visitors, and free hot chocolate is offered to everyone as the temperature drops.
"Doing this helps the children focus on the special meaning of Christmas," said Brent Crowther.
Conrad Huss agrees. "It is heartwarming. If you want to understand the meaning of Christmas, just watch these kids."
Christy Nuss, who helped assemble stagecraft, was asked why she does it.
"Because the Nativity shows the true meaning of Christmas," Nuss said. "It's more than just getting gifts."