The Kiwanis Club of Carefree hosts the annual Desert Foothills Christmas Pageant, delighting hundreds of spectators from Cave Creek, Carefree and drawing visitors from throughout the metro Phoenix/Scottsdale area.
Preparations began earlier this fall for the tradition, which was started by the Cave Creek 4-H Club in 1952, as a re-enactment of the Christmas story showcasing the 4-H Club members’ animals.
Local residents perform in the choir and make up the cast. Volunteers handle all aspects of the pageant, from ground prep, sound tech and sets, to luminaria placement and critter coordination.
“We Kiwanians are very proud to host this pageant, which is truly a classic. You may know the story, but you haven’t experienced it like this. Come, reflect and enjoy. It’s a joy for people of all ages,” said Bob Swan, Kiwanis Club of Carefree president. “No one should miss it.”
“There wouldn’t be a Pageant without the volunteer crews who set everything up and help run the event,” said Kiwanis Club of Carefree member Toby Payne, longtime organizer of the Desert Foothills Christmas. “We need as many people as possible to participate and keep this 62 year tradition alive.”
The Desert Foothills Christmas Pageant takes place on Saturday, Dec. 6, and Sunday, Dec. 7 at Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area in Cave Creek. Five miles of beautiful luminaria lead to the Pageant site. Members of the Desert Foothills Kiwanis Key Club place and the light the luminaria each night.
Majestic-voiced narrator Robert Hutson presides over the Christmas story with beautiful musical accompaniment provided by the Pageant choir conducted by Steve Norris.
Cactus Shadows Shadowbox Players directed by Andrew Cupo enact the roles of Mary, Joseph, Angel, Townspeople and Shepherds. The Three Kings make their dramatic entrance on horseback. Other animals and their owners participate as they wish.
“If you would like to be in the cast with your animal, you must make arrangements with the Pageant in advance and attend rehearsal. We need to make sure that all the animal cast members are able to peacefully co-exist,” said Pageant volunteer Evelyn Holbrook, who wrangles the Kings and their horses.
Because there is no built-in seating, bring a blanket to sit up close on the ground or a portable chair. Wear warm clothes and walking shoes. A flashlight is useful because the primary lighting for Spur Cross Ranch is starlight.
Admission and parking are free.
Anyone interested in volunteering or requiring additional information should contact Toby Payne at 480-544-2290. For information on Kiwanis Club of Carefree please call 480-488-8400 or visit www.kiwaniscarefree.org.
Directions: Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area (44000 N Spur Cross Road, Cave Creek, AZ 85331) is located approximately 35 miles north of central Phoenix. Interstate 17, State Route 51, and Loop 101 can all be used to reach the park. From the intersection of Carefree Highway and Cave Creek Road head north on Cave Creek Road about 2.5 miles to Spur Cross Road. Turn north for approximately 4.5 miles to the public parking area. After 3 miles the road turns to all-weather graded. For more information, visit www.desertfoothillschristmaspageant.com.
History: In 1952, the local 4-H Club in Cave Creek, under the leadership of Jean Hackler, put together a holiday pageant entitled “Oh Holy Night” that included a live re-enactment of the Christmas story and showcased some of their animals. For the next 50 years, community members joined together to produce this homespun show that became an area tradition.
The original production took place nestled among the rocks at the base of Black Mountain in an area known as Tse Bonita. Audience members sat on blankets on the ground while fires lit in the rocks on the mountainside lit the angels and provided added “starlight” to the production. The beautiful desert skies brought a sense of awe to the event.
After 50 years, the pageant’s supporting organization disbanded in 2002. Records and memorabilia were handed over to the Cave Creek Museum. In 2003, there was no event at Spur Cross or anywhere and it looked like the pageant was over. The Luminaria Run was created to at least keep the luminaria trail aspect of the event alive.
Cave Creek resident Toby Payne had volunteered since 1992, enhancing the event with lighting and sound. In 2004, he asked the Foothills Community Foundation to support the resurrection of the pageant. They agreed and the pageant was presented in the desert preserve at Desert Arroyo Middle School for two years.
As the Luminaria Run was created to support the Cave Creek tradition, luminaria crews from the Run also helped light the road to Desert Arroyo.
From the moment of the pageant’s return, organizers had been working with the town of Cave Creek to find a desert location more similar to that of Tse Bonita. Spur Cross Ranch seemed the perfect solution, but it was not quite ready until 2006.
The 2006 Desert Foothills Christmas Pageant marked the first year the pageant was held in the beautiful new Spur Cross location. Under the stars of the desert sky, the tradition continued. In 2007 an unusual rain/snow storm washed the pageant grounds out and damaged the set, forcing cancellation. Volunteers, resilient as ever, constructed a rock and mortar “Inn” that will serve for many years to come.
In spite of the one-year lapse, 2014 is the celebration of the 62st Anniversary of the Pageant.
The Scottsdale Independent is available for free every Wednesday.