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PROVO — A cheer went up as the final tally was read: 1,039 in the cast of characters playing out a record-breaking nativity scene.
Dressed in white to play hundreds of angels, volunteers descended on Rock Canyon Park to claim the Guinness Book of World Records' title for largest live nativity on Monday. Leading roles in the production were played by musicians, local TV favorites and YouTube stars, many of whom are widely known for their membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
A camel, a donkey and a small herd of sheep also got to be included in the headcount.
Michael Empric, a Guinness World Record adjudicator, used a series of numbered wristbands to count the participants and declare the record Monday. The previous record, 889 participants, was set in Great Britain last year.
"What I've loved is everyone has been in such a great mood today," Empric said. "I always like it when record attempts are successful, and hopefully it stays the record for a while."
But above the goal of a world-record title was the hope of spotlighting Jesus Christ's birth through the cacophony of a commercialized Christmas.
"We focus so much on what to buy and what specials there are," said Austin Craig, who helped plan the project and was busy producing behind-the-scenes coverage Monday. "What is Christmas really about? It's about your faith."
It's not just Mormons making a Mormon video, these are Christians focusing on Christ. We want to bring that focus back on Jesus during the Christmas season.
–Austin Craig, event organizer
Julie Jordan, a South Weber resident, took photos as her four children, their two cousins, and a family friend all gathered around the grazing camel that would soon become part of the scene. Amidst their memories of the day will be lessons of faith, she said.
"I hope they feel the spirit of Christ in Christmas, and it's something we share together and we can remember in years to come," Jordan said.
The project, which was branded with the hashtag #ShareTheGift, will become a video that will be shared later this month by the participating social media stars who have "tens of millions of subscribers" collectively, Craig said. Among the "YouTubers" were Shay Carl and Colette Butler of the Shaytards; Devin Graham, famous for his daredevil Devin Super Tramp productions; Stuart Edge, the brain behind a series of clean pranks; and the creators of the Cute Girl Hairstyles instructional videos.
Music for the video will be provided by David Archuleta, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and The Piano Guys. The production was coordinated and funded by The Radiant Foundation.
Craig emphasizes the live nativity was a multi-faith effort.
"It's not just Mormons making a Mormon video, these are Christians focusing on Christ," Craig said. "We want to bring that focus back on Jesus during the Christmas season, so that people remember that it's about more than Santa and reindeer and presents and what's in my stocking. This is a time to remember the redeemer of the world."
After gathering to be counted for the record, the volunteer angels stood as a backdrop while the nativity was played out and filled in a grid painted on the grass to depict a nativity when photographed from above.
Butler, who is known as ShayCarl in the videos he makes with his wife and five children, reprised a wise man for nativity, a role that he jokes put his beard to good use. The rest of his family joined the angel chorus for the video.
The family's motivation for trekking to Provo from Idaho was spiritual, Butler said.
"We figured this was the best place to be, rather than in the mall or cyber shopping somewhere," Butler said. "To have this video and to look back on it and say we were part of breaking a world record and helping share the message of Jesus Christ for Christmas, that's something more valuable than anything else we could be doing today."
Spanish Fork resident Jerick Rose, 14, learned via Facebook that "ShayCarl," who he calls his role model, would be at the live nativity and recruited a friend to accompany him.
"I totally got a picture with him, it was the best," an excited Jerick said, adjusting his costume, a white fabric cone with small LED lights running through the bottom. "I'm just excited because I'm a part of this world record, you know, it's going to be super big."
Jerick will be anxiously awaiting the video, but in the meantime, "I'm going to post all of my photos on Instagram," he said.