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A beloved Corvallis holiday tradition returns this weekend for its 18th year, as big and bright as ever.

The Corvallis Nativity Festival opens at 1 p.m. today at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 4141 N.W. Harrison Blvd.

This year’s theme is “Joy to the World.” To emphasize the global motif, scenes depicting the birth of Christ are grouped by their country of origin into areas representing continents or world regions.

For the first time, the festival will offer some events in Spanish on Saturday evening. Bilingual hosts will be on hand, a puppet show telling the Christmas story will be translated, and a choral group will sing in Spanish. “We’re trying to step into meeting the needs of the community,” said festival director Peggy Glasmann.

Each December, community members bring their Nativity scenes, also called crèches, to be displayed at the church for five days. Glasmann said the display features 700 to 1,000 Nativity scenes each year. Last year, nearly 4,000 people viewed the display as performers played quiet Christmas music.

Almost as staggering as the number of scenes is the sheer variety — from tiny figures built into a matchbox, to an assembly of whimsical ceramic frogs portraying Christ’s birth, to an elaborately carved wooden wall hanging from China. Banners depicting the event adorn the walls of the chapel.

A group of Nativity figures in the foyer averages more than 2 feet tall. They are made of resin and resemble carved wood. Each is engraved with a word describing an attribute, such as “Peace” or “Patience.” The set was purchased by a local woman for the purpose of lending it for the festival each year.

Also near the entryway is an oil painting, “Wise Men,” by J. Leo Fairbanks, chair of Oregon State University’s Department of Architecture from 1923 to 1946. Fairbanks Hall on campus was named after him.

Set-up of lighting and other electrical features started before Thanksgiving, but “the real work started this week,” Glasmann said. Volunteers have worked from morning till evening, arranging artistic backdrops for the scenes. Local residents began dropping off the crèches Thursday. “The design people have a vision, and they know how to pull it all together,” Glasmann said.

In addition to the visual element, the festival offers one to three concerts each evening, all featuring community members. A highlight is Monday evening’s sing-along version of Handel’s choral work “Messiah.” “Last year it was beyond standing room only,” Glasmann said.

Children also will find plenty to occupy them, with a puppet show given several times daily. A children’s room offers an exhibit of folk costumes from around the world, and signs saying “Merry Christmas” in various languages. Young visitors can work puzzles and make craft items to take home.

The children’s room also houses a simple Nativity structure and Biblical costumes for dress-up. Glasmann noted that some families have come to the room, put on costumes and taken a photo to be used for their Christmas card.

A core group of 20 people works year around on the festival. In a two-week period leading up to and incorporating the event, 500 volunteer slots are filled. “It’s all volunteer work,” Glasmann said, noting that the festival was conceived as a labor of love and a gift to the community.

The festival runs from

1 to 8:30 p.m. daily today through Tuesday.

The schedule of concerts follows:

Friday: Episcopal Church of the Good Samaritan Handbell Choir, 6 p.m.; Heart of the Valley Chamber Choir, 7 p.m.

Saturday: The Periwinkle Branch Spanish Choir, 5 p.m.; the Philomath High School Choir, 6 p.m.; the Linn-Benton Community College Chamber Choir, 7 p.m.

Sunday: Christmas devotional broadcast featuring the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, 7 p.m.

Monday: “Messiah” Sing-In,

7 p.m.

Tuesday: The College Hill Choir, 6 p.m.; Silver Girls, 7 p.m.

The puppet show will take place at the following times:

Friday: 5:30, 6:30 and 7:30 p.m.

Saturday: 3:30, 4:30, 5:30 and 6:30 p.m.

Sunday: 4:30, 5:30 and 6:30 p.m.

Monday: 6 p.m.

Tuesday: 5:30 and 6:30 p.m.

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