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Article Last Updated: Saturday, November 23, 2002 - 11:50:15 PM MST

Nativity scenes return to Euclid

Annual display also celebrates other faiths' seasonal traditions
By WILL MATTHEWS, Staff Writer

ONTARIO - More than 60 community volunteers turned out Saturday morning to help put up 12 Nativity scenes along the median of Euclid Avenue, continuing a 43-year civic tradition.

By 6 a.m. Saturday, volunteers were erecting backdrops and putting up the lights, speakers and figures that by late Saturday afternoon had downtown Ontario decorated with the traditions of Christmas.

"We have a community that is pretty well entrenched in this,' said Loren Heise, 70, a resident of Summerville at Victorian Court Senior Residential and Assisted Living Center, where for the last three years all the Nativity equipment has been stored.

"We have a community of a lot of believers, and people really appreciate the opportunity to celebrate the traditions of Christmas and celebrating the religious aspects of Christmas.'

Typically set up the Saturday before Thanksgiving, the Nativity scenes will be on display through the first Saturday of the new year.

The display features more than 30 life-size statues depicting the biblical characters said to have been involved in the birth of Jesus Christ, and is an annual holiday attraction.

"For the community, this is something that is tremendously important,' said Tom Burciaga, a member of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce's Board of Directors and annual organizer of the Nativity scene setup.

"We're talking tradition, we're talking history. This is something that people have been coming to with their families for years and years. It is really important.'

The city's Chamber of Commerce has been funding the annual Nativity scenes for several years, since the city deemed it inappropriate to fund an expression of one particular religion.

Now, instead of just Christian representations, there are displays reflecting a variety of religious traditions, including a Jewish menorah.

"It is important to include other faiths in all of this,' said Diane Gunther, 50, of the Baha'i tradition. "I think we have to bring down all of the barriers of prejudice, whether it be national, religious or racial. It is important to recognize that we are all a part of the human family.'

In an effort to minimize the chamber's costs, Summerville donates storage space each year, and this year provided a pancake breakfast for all the volunteers.

"It is something that we are proud to be able to help with,' said Marianne Alvarez, Summerville's executive director. "Every year, this is what people in this community do. It is what Ontario does at Christmas, and it is something that brings people together. It's wonderful.'

Commuters can expect an increase in traffic on Euclid for the next several weeks, Burciaga said, as residents from throughout the area make their annual trek to see the display.

"This is something that people come from all over to see.' Families even pull over, he said, "so they can bring their kids over for an up-close view.'

©Copyright 2002, San Bernardino Sun

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