Entering Into The ‘Spirit Of Christmas’

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After months of effort, more than a hundred volunteers, actors, musicians, dancing toys, cherub-cute angels and faux shepherd boys on Sunday will face the spotlights and a brimming crowd — in hopes of feeding the hungry.

Last year, an eager audience filled the Payson High School auditorium to overflowing for the impressively staged “Spirit of Christmas” — a heartening but almost indescribable collection of songs, skits, choruses and Nativity scenes, intended to spread the spirit of Christmas as broadly as possible.

The 90-minute show brings together a host of community churches with a surprising number of gifted singers and musicians, all under the direction of Eric Santana.

Every year, the extravaganza binds together volunteers and church members to offer a gift of the Christmas spirit to the community.

But this year, the gathering has an additional purpose — to collect money and food for the just-launched community food drive, already strongly supported by churches in the region.

Rim Country food banks report they’ve been hit by an unexpected surge in urgent pleas for assistance, many from people who have lost their jobs and have exhausted their resources in a desperate effort to support their families.

Some food banks have reported 50 percent increase in requests for help, sometimes from families facing homelessness, after having exhausted unemployment benefits.

This year the “Spirit of Christmas” organizers are asking the audience to bring cans of food and other items they can donate to the food banks as their ticket to the joyfully staged show, which runs twice on Sunday afternoon — once at 2 and again at 6.

The show has grown into more of a production each year. It includes dancing angels, billowing smoke machines, dramatic spotlights, flurries of faux snow, singing prophets, jumping jesters, wild guitarists and a great rush of holiday feeling.

Most of the churches in Payson participate, contributing about $4,000 to the cost of staging the show.

The more than 100 volunteers spent two months in rehearsals for the mixture of plays, dance numbers, children’s choirs and instrumentals.

Last year, the show drew roughly 1,800 viewers — more than 10 percent of the town’s population.

This year, organizers hope to once again fill both the newly refurbished auditorium and the bins for canned food donations, to make sure the show spreads the real spirit of Christmas — even for those having trouble finding room in the inn.

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