SPRINGFIELD - Come rain, snow, sleet or cold this weekend, chances are good the Springfield Nativity Pageant will go on as scheduled at Riverside Park.
This year's pageant forecast calls for snow, wind and cold.
Only once in a quarter century has the event been canceled - for a severe winter snow storm in 2000.
Staff photo by Fritz Busch
The first of three kings (Ed Meidl of rural Springfield) carries a gift to baby Jesus Thursday at the Springfield Area Nativity Theater Association (SANTA) rehearsal at Riverside Park.
"It was a good call," said Springfield Area Nativity Theater Association (SANTA) secretary, director of communications Doris Weber.
"It was really cold in 1989, our third year," Weber said. "The temperature for our second show of the first evening was minus 9 degrees F. with a minus 30 degree wind chill. We still had 160 people watching."
The next night, it was 13 degrees above and more than 1,000 people turned out.
Springfield's Centennial event in 1981 created momentum to start an annual event in addition to Riverside Days, the town's June festival.
"We discussed many ideas at Chamber of Commerce meetings including a farm appreciation event after harvest," Weber said. "We talked about food and sleigh rides at the same time and a live manger scene. Somebody suggested a Christmas pageant and the lights flashed."
Volunteers sewed costumes, built wooden mangers, directed a biblical script, acted, served as stagehands, and did summer fund-raising. All church choirs combined into one.
Pageants began downtown until the need for more seating moved it to the Riverside Park baseball, then the football field.
In its early days, the pageant was performed six times over three nights.
Animals including live camels, mules and donkeys were trucked in from near Milwaukee, Wis.
Then the pageant was changed to four shows on two nights.
In 1989, the Star Tribune featured the Springfield Nativity Pageant with photos and a story on its Christmas Day front page.
Now it's two performances on two nights, this Friday and Saturday at 7 o'clock.
Livestock from Vogel Exotic Animals southwest of Springfield are used.
Weber and many pageant volunteers in key positions have been with SANTA since it began.
"That means less rehearsal time," Weber said.
A summer hamburger feed and other fund-raising events as well as donations help generate $5,000 a year needed to fund the pageant.
A book and DVD on the pageant and its history are available at the Springfield Advance-Press and Freedom Financial.
Weber feels the pageant will continue well into the future.
"Like other things that require work, It really draws the community together and has far-reaching effects," Weber said.
(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org).