In true holiday spirit, the Sevier Heights Baptist Church will be performing their annual "Living Christmas Tree" production at Thompson-Boling Arena. The performance includes about 1,100 participants, including cast, crew and musicians.

A majority of the participants are volunteers from the church and include old and young members alike.

The huge cast starts preparing months in advance to bring the story and life of Jesus to audiences. Eddie Smith, 33, has been the director of events and production at Sevier Baptist since 2000. Smith was brought in as an intern and has been over the tree for the last ten years.

"If you can breathe, you can be in it," Smith said.

He explains that this year, the story incorporates the struggles of a real couple from the church into the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The theme is that everyone's narrative fits into God's overall story. The title is accurately called the "Story Goes On," describing that of God and our own.

The choir and orchestra begin working in July and a recording is sent out each year. The different practices are staggered.

Choreography starts in September, the speaking cast begins in August and the main drama cast begins in late October.

The baby Jesus isn't selected until the very last minute, and is usually around one to three months old.

The show runs 90 minutes long with no intermission.

Even though the church has been running this enactment since 1989, that doesn't mean that it's gotten boring. They mix things up each year, changing the opening scene, modern story and even the enormous Christmas tree.

Sevier Baptist has grown out of its former location in South Knoxville and has performed at the Tennessee Theatre, but because of its short closing, the church was forced to move again. This time the concert landed at Thompson-Boling.

Over the past five years, the "Living Christmas Tree" has seen over 150,000 attendees.

Its success is realistic because of the memorable moments that capture audiences.

"One year we flew Santa in a sleigh from across the arena," Smith said.

Smith revealed that one of his favorite moments is seeing children's faces light up when the camels enter during the manger scene.

"Of course it looks like the national championship when everyone takes out their phones," Smith said.

Although Smith wouldn't divulge any past bloopers, he did share that the animals are from Circle G Ranch, where they house an animal safari. The church balances managing a crew the size of an average film crew all with only two days to consolidate the dynamics of production at the arena.

"I heard about it through a friend and am looking forward to seeing all of the exotic animals," said Kewana Phennessee, senior in sociology.

The event is one of the few that students can attend for free this year. Parking and tickets are available at no cost.
Smith observes that the "Living Christmas Tree" provides stressed students, who are dealing with unique struggles, a way they can find themselves in the story of God.

Performances of the 24th annual "Living Christmas Tree" start Dec. 8 at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., and continue through Dec. 10.