Kate Cagle
Daily Press Staff Writer

A local hallmark of the holiday season, the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes, are celebrating their 65th year and currently on display at Calvary Baptist Church on the corner of 20th and Broadway.

The life-size scenes from the birth of Christ will remain on display in front of the church through Jan. 6.
To drive past, head east on Broadway from 19th Street and the displays will be on your right-hand side.

Metered parking is available on the street. There is limited parking in the church parking lot.

“We are very pleased with the new and visible location in Santa Monica with plenty of parking for you to park and take a stroll past this year’s display,” said Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee chairman Zachary Scribner.

Actress Joan Wilcoxon dreamed up the displays in 1953 as a unique way to celebrate Christmas and recruited the Chamber of Commerce and eight churches to create the scenes, according to the Committee that stores and organizes the displays.

There are now 14 dioramas as part of the display depicting scenes from the New Testament including The Annunciation, Joseph’s dream, and Herod’s court as well as the manger.

The scenes stretched down Ocean Avenue in Palisades Park for nearly sixty years until they became embroiled in a free speech debate over the religious nature of the displays.

If there really is a war on Christmas, Santa Monica briefly became the battlefront.

In 2011, a group of atheists began applying for the spots allotted by the City for December displays, effectively crowding out the nativity scenes.

In response to the controversy, the City Council banned unattended displays in public parks. City staff argued the ban protected Palisades Park from wear-and-tear, preserved ocean views and saved hundreds of hours of staff time that went into administering the program.

A lawsuit intending to keep the displays went all the way to the 9th U.S.

Circuit Court of Appeals, where a panel of judges ruled the blanket ban did not violate anyone’s right to free speech.

The scenes have been hosted by local churches ever since.

The scenes rely on financial support from local businesses and individuals.

Donors who give $350 or more are recognized with a plaque on the marquee at the scenes.

The Committee has created a website with the history of the displays, descriptions of the scenes, and a place to donate at santamonicanativityscenes.org.


Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press