DOWNTOWN — Churches may no longer be able to set up nativity scenes in Palisades Park, but the tradition of celebrating the Christmas story in the public forum will not end if Primo DeJesus has anything to do with it.
DeJesus is organizing churches and other organizations to create interactive displays complete with coffee, cocoa and Christmas carols during the month of December to preserve the spirit of the nativity scene tradition without the risk of violating a standing ordinance against unattended displays.
Churches and other organizations will have two-hour slots every night between Dec. 1 and Dec. 25 beginning at 7 p.m. to put on a show, be it a dry run of their Christmas play or simply carols, DeJesus said.
He was “commissioned” by his own church, Trinity Church of Santa Monica, to create an event that captured the essence of the displays and make peace with city rules, he said.
They’ll do so by creating a live experience on the southern end of Palisades Park, not far from the spot where the scenes once stood.
“It’s a teachable moment for the churches to turn the other cheek,” DeJesus said.
The revised law disrupted a 57-year tradition of erecting dioramas depicting scenes from the birth of Christ. That ended after the City Council voted unanimously in June to close a loophole in an existing ban on unattended displays in municipal parks that specifically allowed them in Palisades Park during the month of December.
The controversy prompted the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Coalition to sue City Hall for the right to continue putting up the crèches. That suit is expected see its day in court on Nov. 19, at which point a federal judge will decide whether or not to grant the coalition an injunction allowing the scenes to go up this year.
If not, organizers have already located another spot for the displays, said Hunter Jameson, spokesperson for the coalition. He wouldn’t say where that location will be.
“The alternate location would be a contingency plan if we’re not able to erect them in Palisades Park,” Jameson said.
In the meantime, DeJesus took on the responsibility of organizing local churches and other organizations to fill each of the 25 two-hour time slots.
It’s taken a month, but they’re all booked, he said, although how each group chooses to fill that time is their own decision.
“We decided not to micromanage the churches,” DeJesus said. “Two hours is a long time to fill. We’re encouraging them to do their Christmas plays as a practice run.”
The preservation of tradition reins over the entire concept. A handful of the churches have been around since the early 20th century and prior, and the proximity to the Lobster Restaurant — originally built in 1923 — and the cannons is no accident.
With everything else in place, DeJesus just hopes people will embrace the mood of the holidays and come together to enjoy snacks and fellowship.
“I hope the event is so successful that it will help smooth it all over,” DeJesus said.