When The Corvallis Nativity Festival began in 1994, it featured maybe 100 nativity sets, displayed by members from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"Over the years, it's grown to where more and more people of different faiths and communities have brought them. We usually have well over 500 now that are displayed," says Suzanne Woods, the festival director.

The annual Corvallis Nativity Festival enters its 24th year starting Friday, and runs through Tuesday, Dec. 5, at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 4141 NW Harrison Blvd. in Corvallis.

Woods said the goal of the festival is to bring the community together in celebration of a traditional Christmas.

"Definitely putting Christ in Christmas is part of the idea of this, but it is not a requirement that someone be Christian to participate and enjoy" the festival, she said.

As the festival has grown over the years, music has become a big part of the five-day event.

"Basically, we have live music going throughout the festival, starting at 11 in the morning and going until 8:30 at night," Woods said.

The festival offers a variety of background music performances along with afternoon and evening concerts, says music coordinator Janeil Olsen.

"We're having Heart of the Valley Children's Choir on Friday night, and the LBCC Chamber Choir, which is very good, on Saturday night, and then several concerts Sunday," Olsen said.

Also performing in concert during the festival are Oregon State University's Bella Voce, Christmas harp and vocals with The Gulleruds, organist Henry Wolthuis, quartet Joyful Noise, Corvallis Stake Primary, vocal-guitar duo Terra Patton and John Shumway, Spanish Group Choir, the Barker Gypsies and the Good Samaritan Choral Scholars.

Concert slots were in such high demand this year that organizers added extra performance opportunities for the Central Coast Chorale and the Hawaiian Singing Leslies.

The background music this year will be more diverse too, Olsen said. In addition to pianists, visitors will hear vocalists and performances on cello, clarinet, flute, harp, violin, saxophone and more.

"I think people will enjoy the music, because we have a lot more than we've ever had before," Woods said.

But the focus of the festival remains on the nativity displays, many of which are on loan from community members.

"They're just really interesting because there are so many different kinds. A lot come from other countries, because people who collect them are interested in getting unique ones," Woods said.

"We have many each year from South America, Europe, Africa, and some from Asia," Woods added.

One of her favorite nativities is one that was purchased in Singapore by Jean and Charles Nelson.

"It is made from ground cinnamon wood clay and is molded by hand," she said.

"Kip Worley of Corvallis generously displays a portion of her huge collection every year. She has nativities from all over," Woods said.

Occasionally, someone from outside of the area will contribute a nativity. This year, doll maker and quilter Elinor Peace Bailey from Vancouver, Washington is loaning two nativity sets to the festival, Woods said.

This year the setting for the hundreds of nativity displays will be patterned after an old Bethlehem marketplace.

The festival also offers a children's room with simple activities and crafts and nativity displays geared towards kids. It includes a musical puppet show about the birth of Jesus, which is performed multiple times each day, Woods said.

Organizers wanted to better serve the Spanish community this year, so Saturday mid-afternoon to evening will be Spanish-friendly time. There will be a puppet show in Spanish, and a Spanish Group Choir performance.

Woods also said organizers are making sure that from 3 to 7 p.m. the volunteers available to answer questions will be bilingual.

Woods said the festival is free, and isn't a worship service that requires visitors to do anything or talk to anyone.

"People are welcome to come in and wander, and look at the displays that are up and listen to the music, if they want to, and enjoy the atmosphere," she said.

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