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When you walk into the foyer of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to visit the 20th annual Corvallis Nativity Festival, you’re beamed back to a Bethlehem marketplace setting.

Burlap sacks of dried beans and other market goods give the sense of traveling back in time. Here and there, a sack cradles a tiny nativity scene.

Step into the cultural hall, and the full exhibit of more than 800 nativity sets is presented in a more modern style.

This, explained festival director Terri Harper, is intentionally done to convey the theme of the festival: “Wise Men Still Seek Him.”

Before the festival opened on Friday, a group of homeschooled children, part of the Corvallis Leadership Commonwealth, visited the exhibit. They were treated to their own puppet show, followed by a trip to see the nativity sets, all on loan from local residents, and a visit to the children’s activity room.

Harper said the sheer scale of the production can be overwhelming. “We start (planning) in the summer,” she said. “In September, it starts in earnest.”

This year’s 500 volunteers produced the displays and organized the concerts and children’s activities. “The displays were set up by people who are not designers by trade,” Harper said. “Most of this year’s designers are young people in their 20s who just like to be creative.”

Around 100 of the nativity sets are being displayed this year for the first time. The variety is wide: porcelain from Spain; a set of plates reproducing stained-glass window nativity designs from around the world; tiny carved wooden figures set in dried gourds from Africa; a heart-shaped ornament made by a child in Uzhhorod, Ukraine, one of Corvallis’ sister cities; scenes made of cornhusks, newspapers, sheet copper, nuts, glass, plastic, you name it.

The are nesting Russian dolls, Christmas stockings, snow globes, bear and moose characters, Native American figures cradled by a pair of hands. They range from small enough to fit in a matchbox right on up to figures several feet tall.

“It’s the best art exhibit for free,” said design chair Debbie Huntsman. “And a really good cheap date,” chimed in Harper.

Therese Van De Graaff is coordinating children’s activities in their own room. Alongside a table where children can practice swaddling baby dolls and another where they can make Popsicle stick puppet nativity figures, are more tables set with — you guessed it — still more nativity scenes. Several of these were made by children, including one fashioned from wire by a 6-year-old, and a three-dimensional pencil-on-paper tableau done by a 7-year-old.

Harper said all the planning has paid off, and the event is running smoothly. “It’s like a symphony,” she said. “Everybody plays their part.”

The festival continues from 1 to 8:30 p.m. today through Tuesday at the church, 4141 N.W. Harrison Blvd.

The schedule of daily concerts follows:

• Today, Saturday: the Corvallis Stake Primary Choir, 4 p.m.; the Chinese Choir Group, 5 p.m.; an informal Spanish-language group, 6 p.m.; and the Linn-Benton Community College Chamber Choir, 7 p.m.

• Sunday: Central Coast Chorale, 5 p.m.; Silver Girls, 6 p.m.; and First Presidency Devotional, 7 p.m.

• Monday: Messiah Sing-In, 7 p.m.

• Tuesday: Corvallis High School Choir, 4 p.m.; St. Mary’s Traditional Choir, 5 p.m.; the Seth Sherry Bluegrass Group, 6 p.m.; the Stake A Cappella Choir, 7 p.m.

The puppet show schedule follows:

• Today: 3:35, 4:35, 5:35 (in Spanish) and 6:35 p.m.

• Sunday: 3:35, 4:35, 5:35 and 6:35 p.m.

• Monday and Tuesday: 5:35 and 6:35 p.m.

Further information is available from Harper at 541-760-577, or visit

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