By Debbie Burke
For the first two weekends in December, Quiet Valley Living Historical Farm holds its living Nativity, and each day up to 600 people will turn out to see it. Despite the wintertime elements and the unpredictable behavior of the animals, the event is a central part of Quiet Valley’s Old Time Christmas.
Deb DiPasquale, Quiet Valley’s Director of Marketing and Special Events, hopes that the event imparts a “sense of the original, noncommercial celebration that took place in a simple, yet meaningful way for the Pennsylvania Germans who settled this land in the late 1700s. It’s not about the hustle and bustle of our modern-day holiday experience; the shopping, baking, wrapping and parties attended. The original farm family believed in a truly profound celebration of the birth of Christ, the best gift of all.”
The nativity scene consists of volunteer actors, some who read or sing; these would be the shepherd, a soloist and a reader, and Mary and Joseph. The only reasonable solution to not exposing a baby to the prolonged cold is the use of an inanimate Baby Jesus (a doll). The human actors are joined of course by the animals, typically a mule, draft horses, a sheep, a cow, a goat and sometimes a rabbit. “We have tried a turkey in the past, but that was a noisy addition and he hasn’t been included since,” says Deb.
It’s no small feat to keep everything running smoothly, and a lot is left up to luck. “When it comes to putting a production on with animals or young children there are no guarantees,” notes Deb. “Our animals are used to regular interaction with people so they are fairly well-behaved. They all have hay to eat and full mouths are quieter. Several times during the evening they’re offered water as well. Well-fed animals are usually content. That being said there have been times the farm animals want to steal the show and there may be periodic mooing, baaing and various other sounds as they sing along with the soloist. Bodily functions can’t always be timed either, but hopefully they occur between group visits.” However, the actors continue with their readings and songs no matter what interruptions arise.
Besides the Nativity, other special features of the Old Time Christmas include a 1 ½-hour farm tour with craft activities and tree decorating at the picnic pavilion, a bonfire, and a short skit about a Victorian family preparing for an 1890’s holiday. Visitors can walk over to the Granddaddy Cabin and listen to a story of an early 1800’s Christmas, and visit the schoolhouse where the school marm and a group of musicians lead a chorus of seasonal songs. A trip to the farmhouse’s cellar kitchen brings the Belsnickel, a traditional Pennsylvania German folk character; and the Engel Education Center is the place for complementary hot chocolate, cider, homemade cookies and hot pretzels. The gift shop carries items like beautiful handcrafted wood cutting boards, hand-blown glass Christmas ornaments, gently scented handmade soaps and placemats woven on Quiet Valley looms.
Deb says the best part of Old Time Christmas is recognizing those who’ve made Quiet Valley a family tradition, and the feedback from visitors who appreciate the noncommercial atmosphere of the event. “Most of all, it’s seeing the smiling faces of the guests as they leave and hearing them shout ‘Merry Christmas!’”
The event will be held on December 2 and 3, and December 9 and 10, with tours running every 15 minutes from 3 p.m. – 7 p.m. For more information, visit www.quietvalley.org or call (570) 992-6161.