Malibu tradition still going after 41 years

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Keep Christ in Christmas will have a single caroling/candle lighting ceremony this year, Dec. 5, at 3 p.m. at PCH and Webb Way.

Members of Keep Christ in Christmas of Malibu are preparing for the yearly tradition of setting up a life-size nativity scene on Pacific Coast Highway at Webb Way, for the 41st year.

One of the original members, Jackie Sutton, and now an advisor for the board, says she is excited the project has come this far. However, big changes have taken place. Unlike last year, where every Sunday in December caroling and advent candle lighting took place along with a Las Posadas procession at the beginning of the month, this year, a single special caroling event is planned for Dec. 5 at 3 p.m. to make it easier for the community to assemble.

Keep Christ in Christmas began in 1963 with Malibu resident Mary Keupper, who is now in her 90s. The goal was to bring people of all faiths in the community together. Local contractors and volunteers donated money and time over the years to build the crèche and continue to do so today. Local ministers presided over the candle lighting ceremonies and caroling, and local celebrities such as Dick Van Dyke, Martin Sheen and Stacy Keach volunteered to read from the Bible.

Sutton said there is a transitional phase taking place in which the project is being turned over to “the young people with more drive.” There is great detail when running a program of this size, she said. It takes approximately $4,000 to run the whole program, said Jennifer Schoenberger, the president of the project.

In order to recreate the nativity scene, insurance for the structure is needed, as well as a lease-from Los Angeles County-for the space in which the nativity scene will be built. Schoenberger said there has been an increase in price for the lease this year.

In a yearly tradition where the community happens to be the focus, the turnout of volunteers plays an important role. It saves labor costs and allows the community to come together, members said.

In addition to help from contractors and other volunteers, Malibu Lumber has donated forklifts and drivers to help carry the structure from the storage site onto a flatbed truck, which takes the structure to PCH and Webb Way, and again later to return it to Cross Creek, where it resides until the following year. Anjanette Carter at Malibu Lumber said they are ready to do it again this year. Optimist Club members donate community service hours to assemble the nativity scene. Workshops are held at local churches so children can work on their projects for the annual KCIC art and essay contest, a contest Sutton said is open to all children. Artists and writers in the community judge the essays and artwork, and awards are handed out in January. The deadline this year for entries is Dec. 5.

For a project like this to continue to prosper for many more years, as Sutton hopes, depends on its community. If rumors that Malibu Lumber is closing are true, they will have to “find other souls to help,” she said, but that remains to be seen.

The Dec. 5 program will take place at 3 p.m. at the corner of PCH and Webb Way.