The birth of Jesus is portrayed in the nativity pageant presented annually by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The pageant takes place this year Dec. 21, 22 and 23 at Topaz Park. (Photos submitted)

Nativity pageant a family Christmas tradition

Live nativity scene returns to Topaz Park on Dec. 21, 22, 23

For Dan Arnott and his family, participating in the portrayal of the first Christmas is an annual tradition.

Since 2014, Arnott, a public school teacher, has been portraying one of the three wise men in the live outdoor nativity pageant presented by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, an event that has been a Christmas tradition in Greater Victoria for more than 30 years.

The tradition continues Dec. 21, 22 and 23 with four performances each evening at Topaz Park, starting at 6:30 p.m.

Live actors and animals follow a recorded soundtrack that tells the story of the birth of Jesus Christ and the events surrounding that first Christmas. The pageant involves scores of volunteers setting up for the pageant, participating as characters and doing behind-the-scenes work, sometimes in the rain.

Arnott remembers attending the pageant as a spectator when he was a teenager. His first participation was in 1998 when he was in his early 20s — he played Joseph. In 2014, he was asked to play one of the three wise men, and has played that role since.

“I enjoy portraying a wise man, not only because I get to grow a really nice beard, but I get to participate with my kids in sharing the meaning of Christmas to our family,” said Arnott. “This year, my boys are helping me in the wise men’s procession and my oldest daughter will be an angel. The annual nativity pageant has become a family tradition.”

For Marlon Badesso, it has also become a family Christmas tradition. He has been an actor in the pageant for more than 25 years.

“My son, Daniel, who turns 29 this year, played the baby Jesus in one of the early years of the pageant,” he said.

“For a number of years, I played the role of a shepherd. This was one of my favourite roles, as I got to spend a lot of time on the scene. I would always find myself tearing up as I viewed the ‘babe wrapped in swaddling clothes.’ ” I found myself thinking back to the simple life – and the universal importance of the event being portrayed before my eyes.”

About 28 years ago, looking to make the portrayal a little more realistic, Badesso scoured the beach at Esquimalt Lagoon for driftwood sticks that would make suitable staffs for the shepherds in the pageant.

“Many of those staffs are still in use,” he said.

Other roles he has played include being one of the three wise men, with his daughter portraying the wise man’s servant. And for a couple of years, he was a tax collector. (His CPA designation qualified him for that, he jokes.)

“More than once, when I went down into the audience after the performance to thank them and wish them a Merry Christmas,” he said, “people would start pulling money out their pockets. I would have to explain that I was not really a tax collector and that our performance was a community service – free of charge.”

Live animals used in the performance, include llamas standing in for camels, which gave Badesso an opportunity to be a llama handler.

“Minds of their own, those animals,” he said.

His most prominent role has been that of King Herod, the bad guy in the story.

“I have probably played that role, off and on, for at least 12 years,” said Badesso. “I enjoy that role as it gives me the opportunity to be more expressive — though it is short. Many people not versed in the Bible are not familiar with King Herod and the significance that he played in the early years of the life of Jesus Christ and his family.

“Initially, I enjoyed participating in the pageant because it gave me the opportunity to experience the moment with my children. Now that they are grown, I take pleasure in providing the public with the story of the first Christmas, to let many of them know some of the events that helped shape much of the world history over the past 2,000 years.”

With four half-hour performances each evening, it can be a bit gruelling, but Badesso says he doesn’t mind. He says that while he is involved with the pageant, “I get to escape from the cares and concerns of everyday life and let my thoughts drift to eternal truths. My heart softens and I feel thankful for my position in life. It rekindles the feelings of service and love for my fellow human beings.”

The Christmas Nativity Pageant is Dec. 21 to 23 at Topaz Park. Four half-hour performances start at 6:30 p.m. nightly.

Admission is free and free parking is available at Topaz Park and S.J. Willis Alternative School. The pageant is also wheelchair accessible.

For more information, go to christmasnativity.ca.


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An angel announces the birth of the infant Jesus as shepherds watch in awe in a past performance of the live nativity pageant presented by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Photos submitted)

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