Preparations are underway for the 33rd Annual Solvang Nativity Pageant which has been a tradition during the holiday season for several decades and is part of the annual Solvang Julefest celebration. The Pageant is an elaborately staged presentation of the Nativity story featuring live animals, musical accompaniment, and narration presented by an all- volunteer cast.
This year’s production will be presented on Saturday, December 10, in Solvang Festival Theater at 420 Second Street. There will be two performances, the first at 5 p.m. and the second at 7 p.m.. Admission is free and the gates will open at 4 p.m. for pre-show activities, including the live SNAP Jazz Band, Petting Zoo, Prayer Tent, and Food Court serving hot food and drinks. Bring the whole family and remember to dress warmly and blankets will be available.
The first year of the Nativity Pageant was 1984 and local resident, the late Earl Petersen, was in the middle of constructing the Petersen Inn.
The story Petersen told was that he got the idea for the event when a traveling animal show came through Solvang that same year. So with the help of friends Bob and Donnie Rohrbough, he decided to bring the great story of the very “First Christmas” to Solvang for people who had never heard it. Petersen decided to hire some of the animals from that show, and the Rohrboughs engaged the local churches, pastors and congregations to participate.
The team then put a narrative together from the gospel accounts, used biblical-based carols, transformed a llama into a camel, and along with sheep and a donkey they were on their way. The performers were of all ages, a local pastor narrated the story, and the costumes were a mix of PCPA donations, drapes and second hand clothes. That’s how the first annual Community Nativity Pageant was conceived.
The small company of players started out in Peterson Square with folding chairs and local soloists. After a few years they outgrew that location and it moved to Frederick’s Court.
The Rohrboughs produced the play from 1984 till 1991 at which time it was handed over to Everett and Dorothy Parker who in the mid 90’s passed it on to Ralph and Marjorie Tayloe. To accommodate the growing audience, the Tayloes relocated the event to the open air venue of the Solvang Theaterfest (now called Solvang Festival Theatre), its present location. Marjorie and Ralph left for Dubuque, Iowa and handed over the production to Steven Battaglia and Janette Swanson in 2007. Janette has produced the program since 2014. For most of those years the sound and lighting technology was faithfully provided by Jim Richard and his crews.
For years, local actor, Efrem Zimbalist Jr. brought warmth and charm to the telling of the story as the Narrator. He faithfully performed the role from 1995 and continued until his passing in 2013. Local resident, Pastor Jack Hayford took over the role as story teller in 2014. We are pleased this year to have Stephanie Zimbalist, star of stage and screen, to carry on in her “Pops” shoes as Narrator.
This year we are also pleased to announce that we have many special world-class musical guest artists: Maurice Sklar, Concert Violinist; Eduardo Villa, Tenor; Hallie Neill, Soprano; Theodore Labrinos, Baritone and Julie Meyer, Dove Award nominated Singer/Songwriter. We are reaching for a new level of musical achievement under the direction of Lawrence Gerard Skahill, Music Director.
After over three decades, the Nativity Pageant is still true to its original roots of the telling of the biblical account of the first Christmas with local residents and now complemented by local world-class artists and their friends.