LEHI, Utah (ABC4) – Joe Coccimiglio is looking forward to putting on his nonprofit group’s live nativity scene, recreating the biblical story of Bethlehem from inside of a barn this holiday season.
He just needs to fill the most important role.
“As funny as it sounds like, we’ve had a tough time finding a baby Jesus for all the nights,” Coccimiglio laughs.
Getting a camel for this year’s scene, as his group, A Babe is Born, has had in years past is also proving to be a bit more difficult.
The rest of the roles, played by actors who will be bringing the Christmas story to life, are all in place. For the live nativity scene, Coccimiglio has gathered a group of Utah-based refugees to play the parts and create an immersive experience, complete with sets, animals, and other creative elements. The scene, which will be performed at 7752 N 9150 W in Lehi from 5:30-7:30 p.m. on Friday, Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday, is also an opportunity to support those in need as well. Tickets at the door and donations – which Coccimiglio refers to in the biblical sense, a “tax” – will go to support local refugees.
The refugees that A Babe is Born works with come from all over the globe, hailing from places such as Rwanda, the Congo, Nepal, Iraq, and Afghanistan. They also have a variety of different faith backgrounds.
Coccimiglio doesn’t see the nativity scene as an opportunity to impose some kind of Christian ritual upon the refugees, but rather views it as a chance for those who are new to the state, and likely the United States as a whole, to meet their neighbors and community. Doing so in a cheerful, festive atmosphere makes it even better, he adds.
“We’ll have actors that are Muslim and Christian alike and it’s cool to just associate with each other and put any differences aside and work together and bond and grow together,” he explains to ABC4.com “So that’s been a cool experience and, that’s been more of the focus. Just to try to be show kindness and love regardless of the faith or background.”
Sitting with Coccimiglio is 25-year-old Nema Uwineza, who arrived with her family in Utah as refugees from Rwanda a few years ago. She participated in the nativity scene for the first time two years ago and remembers it as a great atmosphere to meet new people.
“I met people from different places like Africa and other states in America,” Uwineza recalls, adding she has found learning English to be a challenge but already speaks it quite well. “We talked for a little bit and they asked me where I’m from and we shared about ourselves. It was amazing. I got to know other people and different stories.”
The donations that Coccimiglio hopes to collect for his refugee friends are essential to helping them build a better life in Utah. What’s most needed, he says, is good clothing.
“Food isn’t quite as big of an issue because there are so many good charities out there that provide food, but the clothing is really tough,” he states. “Buying new clothes instead of used helps with warmth and dignity, and whether it’s shoes or coats or pants or jackets, it just goes a long way to that.”
Asking Uwineza what else families like hers need, she takes the opportunity to thank Coccimiglio for some donations he made in helping her family with a computer and bikes. The gratitude she feels is palpable.
Coccimiglio humbly receives the thank you and mentions to Uwineza how much he had enjoyed seeing her family ride their bikes around. Turning back to ABC4.com, he says moments like that are what make events like building a small piece of the Middle East in a barn in Lehi so gratifying.
“It’s so much work to put in to do this thing and sometimes I ask myself like, ‘Why are we doing this?’ he says rhetorically. “It’s a lot of extra stress and work but I think being able to associate and work with people like Nema and her family, just makes it all worthwhile.”
After all, ’tis the season for feelings like these, he says. When you boil the holidays down to their true meaning, not the presents or commercialization of the occasion, scenes like the nativity can serve as a powerful reminder of what’s really important, according to Coccimiglio.
“It just kind of puts things in perspective, a little bit about what really matters and how to have joy and how to have happiness in our life. A lot less to do with stuff and have a lot more to do with who we’re with and who can help and bless and love.”