For the 58th-straight year, friends and neighbors of 2200 Lebanon Pike gathered on the Saturday before Christmas for a beloved tradition.
Each year, rain or shine, the Kelley family puts on a live production of the Christmas story, complete with actors, live animals and a young child who portrays baby Jesus.
“It’s as close to the true Christmas story from the Bible there is. There’s always a baby Jesus, who’s a child less than a year old that seems to pop up every year. It’s just touching,” said Lad Kelley.
This year, Bridges Jones played baby Jesus. As expected, the baby completely stole the show. Dressed all in white, he happily played his part, smiling at the crowd and taking his place in the manger. His mother and father, Kelley and Mike Jones, played Mary and Joseph.
“What a beautiful baby Jesus he made,” said neighbor Anne Gaither. “He just stole everyone’s hearts up there and didn’t fuss once.”
The manger scene sits in the front yard of the Kelleys’ historic Victorian farmhouse. It’s one of the oldest homes in the Donelson area, built more than 100 years ago. At that time, the land all around it was farmland belonging to the Kelleys. Today, some of that land is the Donelson Hills neighborhood. Neighbors love coming to watch the live production as part of their family traditions.
“This is a special Christmas tradition for our family, because our kids get to see community members putting on the story of Jesus and sing Christmas carols and meet neighbors and share in the Christmas spirit,” said neighbor Caroline Jantz.
The first Living Christmas story was put on 58 years ago. Back then, it had just four actors portraying Mary, Joseph, Jesus and a shepherd. The Kelleys’ children and friends played the parts.
“I was a shepherd, my younger brother who was about 10 months old at the time was the first baby Jesus,” said Bill McDonald.
Lad Kelley remembers his mother having the idea to do the pageant.
“She wanted it to mean something to help us understand what Christmas was all about instead of just all the gifts and the stores and everything,” he said.
Each year, the story is told through a live narrator who reads scripture from the Bible. Today’s version has grown to include the three wise men, a choir of angels, shepherds and even a live donkey and sheep.
“Actually acting it out and reading the scriptures from the Bible makes you really think about it for the first time all season,” said Lad Kelley.
“When you’re up there, in your mind, you really do block a lot of things out. You focus on, what was it like. You start thinking, what were the shepherds like, what was it like for them actually there?” said McDonald.
The pageant is open to anyone who’d like to come, and some even travel from out of town to see it every year. Afterwards, guests are invited into the Kelleys’ historic home for refreshments.
“It really is a special celebration, and something I plan to do with my family for many years to come,” said Gaither.
In addition to the Jones family portraying the main characters, shepherds included Lad Kelley, Clayton Huffman, Andrew Donaldson, Andrew Arbour and Malcolm Williams; the wise men were Jerry Ammonette, David Buntin and Stephen Jones, and Hailey Jones, Margaret Arbour and Taylor Krieg portrayed angels. Kathy Kelley and Grant Kelley served as narrators.