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Family brings Christmas story alive

Clara City farmers offer free program in their barn

By Scott Thoma

Amanda Hilbrands was trying to think of a Christmas event that she and her husband, Mark, could take their daughter, Kinslee, to a couple of years ago.

Mark and Amanda Hilbrands of Clara City and their daughter, Kinslee, 6. Contributed photo

“I grew up in Marshall and one of my best memories of Christmas was going to the Deutz Barn, where they used to have a Christmas program called ‘Jewels of the North Land’ with a live nativity and Mass in their barn every year,” Amanda said. “I really enjoyed that. There wasn’t anything like that around here.”

The Hilbrands currently operate a cattle company north of Clara City. Each year, they hold two cattle production sales at their farm, one in early December and the other in April.

“After a sale in 2018 I was looking around the barn, which was already all cleaned out and decorated, and I told Mark I was going to have a Christmas living nativity show here,” she recalled. “He looked at me like I was kidding. I insisted that I was going to do it and he finally realized I was serious after I kept talking about it for months.”

In 2019, the Hilbrands had their inaugural Christmas program in their heated barn. Hay bales became seats for the audience. Refreshments were served after the performance. Children had their picture taken with animals in the living nativity program.

This wasn’t just any program, though. It focused on the true meaning of Christmas. The Hilbrands’ calf barn soon took on the look of the stable in Bethlehem where the birth of Jesus took place.

The Hilbrands hosted a single showing of the Living Nativity in 2019, but because of the COVID pandemic last year and some other scheduling conflicts, the one-hour program wasn’t held in 2020.

With an overwhelming positive response to the previous Living Nativity, Amanda decided to expand so more people can enjoy it. This year, there will be two free showings on Dec. 18, the first at 1 p.m. and the second at 6 p.m.

“I wanted it to be free for people to come and bring their kids and have fun,” she said. “People have said we should charge or take donations for it, but I want it to be the ‘Reason for the Season’ and not about money. Costs of everything are going up and people don’t need financial burdens.”

Hilbrands requests that those wishing to attend the Living Nativity should reserve a spot. But reservations are filling seats fast.

“We wanted to give something back to the community,” Amanda explained. “It gives people a chance to just relax for an hour and enjoy some time together. Sometimes we just need that reminder that God is still with us and things will get better.”

The Living Nativity is performed in front of over 200 people in the heated barn at the farm of Marj and Amanda Hilbrands in 2019. Contributed photo

Actors for the program are friends, relatives or members of the Bethany Reformed Church in Clara City where the Hilbrands attend.

“Our church has been such a big help,” Amanda noted.

Narrators are from St. Clara Catholic Church in Clara City.

By having the program inside a heated barn, the Living Nativity program is able to use an actual baby to play the part of Baby Jesus.

There are also wisemen and angels, as well as cattle, horses, donkeys and sheep that are included in the program.

Children can sit on some of the animals or on a sleigh after the program this year and have their photo taken. There will also be a hot chocolate bar with coffee and treats served after each program.

This year’s shows will be on Dec. 18 (two showings). To register or for more information, visit their website at

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