LIVERMORE -- It took four years, spurred logistical headaches and cost tens of thousands of dollars to realize, but in the end, "Living Bethlehem" exceeded all expectations of its creator, Livermore contractor Doug Fernandez.
Fernandez, a St. Michael Catholic Church parishioner who conceived of the ambitious project as an antidote to the commercialization of Christmas, said the "overwhelming" community response justified all the time and effort he and his crew of about 250 volunteers put in to make it happen.
"It was a terrific success, without a doubt," Fernandez said. "It affected so many people. I'm not exaggerating to say that thousands came up to me and told me this was exactly what they needed to bring them back to Christ and get them into the true spirit of Christmas."
The 35,000-square-foot Nativity, which wrapped up its five-day run Monday, brought together more than 100 actors and dozens of animals to tell the story of the birth of Jesus Christ. Sets included a village with Roman soldiers and peasants and a stable with livestock. Performances ran every half-hour from 6:30 to 9 p.m., drawing an estimated 12,000 visitors throughout its run.
On Sunday and Monday, close to 3,400 people attended each night, with lines stretching a block. Organizers kept the production open later than scheduled to accommodate the demand, and increased capacity inside to 1,200 at any given time.
Fernandez said numerous visitors, even one
"I was hovering; I wasn't walking," Fernandez said. "I knew in my heart I was doing the right thing. ... People were starving for that type of message."
Livermore Mayor John Marchand, who attended opening night, said he was impressed by the air of authenticity of the production, down to the oil-burning torches illuminating the walls.
"The word that comes to mind is 'spectacle,'" Marchand said. "This was truly spectacular ... Everybody was struck by the grandeur."
Fernandez overcame numerous obstacles in re-creating the city of Christ's birth and faced a few unforeseen challenges because of audio problems and the weather. Despite the threat of rain nearly every night, each performance went on as scheduled.
"There were certainly miracles happening, where it would stop raining right at show time," Fernandez said. "It played in our favor."
Police reported no issues with theft, vandalism or crowd control. Unofficially, the cost of the production tallied just over $50,000, with nearly half that figure covered by donations.
Fernandez immediately took a three-day vacation to decompress. He said the sets would be left up until next weekend, and will be open Saturday at noon for a multidenominational service.
With the site guaranteed, Fernandez is already looking ahead to next year's show, scheduled for Dec. 12 to 16, 2013. He said he'll make some minor changes, and add a few other surprises.
"It's going to be bigger and better," he said.
Contact Jeremy Thomas at 925-847-2184 or follow him at Twitter.com/jet_bang.