Christmas in the Canyon

by Lisa Larson


From a distance, roughly 250,000 twinkling lights cast a cozy glow above Tuacahn Amphitheatre, beckoning visitors to come enjoy something a little more meaningful during the busy holiday season.

It’s as if someone wrapped a bow around the entire canyon. Tuacahn CEO Kevin Smith says he hopes everyone will take the opportunity to enjoy this “gift to the community” taking place Friday, Saturday, and select weeknights from November 24 through December 23. Visit ww.tuacahn.org for specific dates.

“It’s something the whole family can enjoy, at very little expense, and have a very meaningful experience during the holidays,” Smith says of the event that includes visits with Santa Claus, a train ride, hot chocolate, crackling fires, live musical performances, and for the first time, outdoor ice skating all within the craggy red backdrop of Tuacahn’s Padre Canyon jutting out against the starry night sky.

At the heart of this gift is the story upon which many people base their Christmas beliefs, a live version of the Nativity. Featuring live animals, beautiful music, professional voiceover narration by Dick Nourse, and community members filling each of the roles, the story’s message cuts through the cold December air to warm the hearts of all who attend.

“It’s just a neat experience to remember what the holiday is all about,” says Heidi Anderson, director for the live Nativity.

Often, the impact of the program goes even deeper for the performers. “Groups start booking a year in advance to participate,” Smith says of the amateur Nativity casts that change each night.

There is room for 50 to 80 participants in the show, ranging from the lead Joseph and Mary characters, to a choir of angels, wise men, shepherds, and Roman soldiers. All have costumes and an opportunity to rehearse briefly before stepping on stage for two or three performances per night — a feat Anderson says would not be possible without her team of stage managers and a rehearsal process that has been streamlined into “a well-oiled machine.”

“Turning the show over to a different cast each night has made for some unique experiences,” Smith says, “one of which forever altered one particular moment in the show.”

“One year, a couple in their 50s or 60s was selected to play the roles of Mary and Joseph,” Smith recalls. “The woman playing Mary was thrilled; her husband who was cast as Joseph, was not. He was nervous. When he got on stage, there were several times we were concerned his hesitancy would cause a problem for the story, but just as the narrator spoke about Jesus being wrapped in swaddling clothes, the man playing Joseph went to the manger and picked up the Jesus doll and held him through the rest of the song. It was so touching that it has become a tradition to have Joseph hold Jesus through that song in every performance since that time.”

This year’s Christmas in the Canyon event also includes an indoor professional production of Fairy Tale Christmas, written by Scott McLean, and the creator of The Forgotten Carols, Michael McLean. Fairy Tale Christmas tells the story of several disgruntled fairytale villains trying to force the heroes to paint their villainous characters in a better light, and they will stop at nothing to get their way — including kidnapping Santa Claus.

Christmas in the Canyon is free of charge. The Live Nativity is $2 per person. Fairy Tale Christmas tickets start at just $29, and can be purchased at www.tuacahn.org or by calling (435) 652-3300.


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