The Santa Monica Nativity Scenes at Cavalry Baptist Church. (Daniel Archuleta)

The Santa Monica Nativity Scenes have been a local hallmark of the holiday season for more than 65 years, and the tradition is set to continue for at least another year when the nativity scenes return to Santa Monica this year.

Located at Calvary Baptist Church on the corner of 20th Street and Broadway, the life-size scenes are scheduled to return a little bit earlier than usual in 2019, said nativity scenes committee member Kari Czer, who said the scenes will begin being displayed on Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, and will end on Jan. 4, 2020.

There are now 14 dioramas in the display that depicts scenes from the New Testament, including The Annunciation, Joseph’s dream, and Herod’s court as well as the manger, Czer said, before discussing the decades of history that are behind the scenes. “They have depicted ‘the true story of Christmas’ since their inception.”

In the late 1950s and the 1960s, the nativity scenes developed into a major Santa Monica attraction as droves of people visited the city to experience them, according to Czer. “There were news crews and it seemed like everybody in the city partnered to support the scenes.”

“The city would host a parade on Wilshire and the entire town would come out. Everybody looked forward to it,” Czer added, mentioning people from all over the world would come to catch a glimpse.

Even without the fanfare they received in their early days, the scenes still continued to stretch down Ocean Avenue in Palisades Park until they became embroiled in a free speech debate over the religious nature of the displays, which began once the group decided to hang bible verses up in booths.

“People didn’t know what was being depicted, so we felt it necessary to hang the bible verses up,” Czer said. “I knew we needed to when somebody asked me about Moses in one of the scenes.”

And while she admits her idea eventually forced the scenes to find a new display location, Czer said she hopes the scenes will one day be able to return to public property.

“We as a committee have a goal to bring them back to the public’s view because people love them and they want to hear the story,” Czer said. “Santa Monica for years was called the city of the Christmas story, and I think as long as the scenes are still around, the city will always have a chance at becoming that once again.”

Directions

To drive past the display, officials said one should head east on Broadway from 19th Street and the displays will be on your right-hand side.

There is limited parking in the church parking lot for those who wish to walk by the displays, and metered parking is available on the street.

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