For the last 12 years, Historic St. Mary’s Mission of Stevensville has offered a gift to the community that’s supported it for decades.
In part, it comes in the form of an exhibit that comes from the heart of the people who call this place home.
Each year, its residents carefully bring some of their most precious Christmas decorations to the mission’s center to be included in a display of Nativity scenes from around the world to share with their neighbors and friends.
This year the exhibit of Nativities is interspersed with a variety of vintage toys that are equally precious to their owners.
“We appreciate when the community offers to share these most precious items that hold memories of years gone by,” said the mission’s executive director Colleen Meyer. “Every year, it brings us all a lot of joy to see what comes through the door.
“The best part of it for us has been the stories that come with the Nativities and this year’s vintage toys,” she said.
Take for instance, the old sled learning against the wall, its boards weathered thin by time and runners rusted red.
“It’s been fun to hear about how fast that sled could go or the crashes it had or how many kids would pile on top of it at the top of the hill,” Meyer said, with a smile. “Each and every item in here comes with stories that we often get to enjoy. It’s a special time that we all enjoy.”
The “Nativities from Around the World and Vintage Toys” exhibits opening on Friday coincides with Stevensville’s annual Country Christmas and First Friday Celebration that kicks off at about 6:30 p.m., with the lighting of the town’s Christmas Tree at Veterans Park.
Once the tree is lighted, the crowd will turn on its own lights as they become participants in the community’s Parade of Lights that takes over the town’s Main Street.
Stevensville Main Street Executive Director Lorraine Roach encourages people wanting to participate in the annual walk through downtown to dress warmly and bring flashlights, glow sticks or find other creative ways of adding light to the parade that will travel to the intersection of Third and Main, where a live Nativity scene awaits.
Once everyone arrives, the Christmas story will be read, followed by caroling to help ensure that everyone finds the Christmas spirit. At that point, a young winner of a coloring contest will step up to flip the switch of the overhead lights that will shine throughout the holiday season.
Shortly afterward, Santa will arrive in a horse-drawn wagon to set up shop in the space immediately behind Valley Drug.
“There is a huge Christmas tree set up in there,” Roach said. “Kids can visit Santa and have their photos taken.”
The air will be filled with the sound of bells and the steady step of draft horses’ hooves as three wagons offer rides to up and down Main Street and to the St. Mary’s Mission up until 9 p.m. There will be a variety of activities for young and old at different businesses and along the sidewalk.
“The library is sponsoring the Montana A Cappella Society,” Roach said. “They will be dressed in Victorian outfits and strolling along Main Street caroling. There will also be a number of nonprofits handing out goodies, and outdoor bonfires where people can get warm.”
Between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., people hoping to step back in time can walk through the open doors of the mission’s chapel between, which will be filled with the Christmas music accompanied by the pump organ in the balcony.
“The chapel will be very simply decorated in the same style that people would have probably encountered back in 1866,” Meyer said.
After people enjoy the Nativity and vintage toy exhibit, their children are encouraged to participate in a variety of different crafts.
“Everything is free and open to the public,” Meyer said. “This is our gift to the community.”
The Nativity and vintage toy exhibit will remain open Saturday from 10 a.m to 3 p.m.