Joseph (Aaron Kraus) and Mary (Tina Kraus) present Jesus (their seven-week-old son August) at the conclusion of the “Hallelujah Chorus” during Holy Family Catholic Community’s “Living Nativity” on Sunday, Dec. 5. (Photo by Larry Hanson)

The old saying in show business is to never work with children or animals.

For Holy Family Catholic Community in Fond du Lac on Sunday, Dec. 5, those were the major draws.

The parish, the largest in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee with more than 5,000 families attending over six locations, presented its third installment of its phenomenal “Living Nativity,” a fun and inspired twist on the traditional Christmas program that most parishes present. The first two performances of “Living Nativity” were in 2016 and 2018; the 2020 performance was pushed back to this year because of the pandemic.

“It’s a unique opportunity for people to be at church and get to experience the birth of Christ in this time where we (can become very busy),” said Holy Family Pastor Fr. Ryan Pruess. “This gives families and parishioners and people from the Fond du Lac area a chance to sit and relax, and listen to some beautiful music, and reflect on the most beautiful gift God can give us.”

The inside of the church was transformed into a manager scene, depicting the events surrounding the birth of Jesus.

The show, which lasted about an hour and drew a sell-out crowd of 930 attendees, included live animals supplied by Glacier Ridge Animal Farm of Van Dyne, a 100-person adult choir, a children’s choir of about 30 and a cast of about 35 depicting the story of Jesus’ birth taken from all four Gospels. The cast, crew and choirs were drawn from parishioners, parish employees and volunteers.

“It brings in all of the staff,” said Holy Family Communication Director Sarah Razner.

In the starring role as Jesus was seven-week-old August Kraus; his parents Aaron and Tina played Joseph and Mary. They were approached to play those parts after Tina had given birth.

They were joined on the altar by about a dozen school-aged shepherds, farm animals that included goats and sheep, the Three Wise Men bearing gifts, the Tribes of Israel dancers and a live camel.

For a parish as large as Holy Family, Razner said “Living Nativity” is a great way to bring the Catholic community of Fond du Lac together.

“We’re all spread out and we have the six sites,” Razner said. “Everyone in the parish can come together and get to know each other and see some faces you might not have seen in a while, especially with COVID.”

The show was a combination of live performances (narrated by Fr. Pruess) and traditional Christmas music, including “Away in a Manger,” “Joy to the World,” “Silent Night,” and the “Hallelujah Chorus,” which finished with Joseph and Mary presenting Jesus to the crowd.

Fr. Pruess said the preparations for the show begin about 10 months ahead of time, including booking the animals, selecting the music and rehearsals. There was a dress rehearsal a week before the show (without the live animals) to run through everything.

“When we have 900 people coming through our doors, we feel like we can have a strong impact on their life and on their faith life, so I think it’s well worth the investment,” Fr. Pruess said.

Holy Family plans to have its next “Living Nativity” in 2023.