Every December for as long as most Preston Hollow residents can remember, an elaborate production takes over the front lawn of the church at the corner of Preston and Walnut Hill.

 

The annual Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church living nativity has become a must-see for members, neighbors, passersby, and even busloads of retirees from local senior homes.

 

The cast of characters, which includes dozens of live animals, changes from year to year, but one thing has remained constant for the last four decades — the leadership of Dee Cochran.

 

“I was introduced one time as the crèche lady, and I thought it was wonderful,” Cochran recalls. “The nicest part is they let me continue to do it as long as I can.”

 

They don’t just “let” her do it. Cochran has been the driving force behind the “Christmas Crèche,” as she calls it, since she moved back to Texas from New Jersey 40 years ago.

 

A speech and drama major at Oklahoma University , Cochran dabbled in theater production up north after graduation. She says she was thrilled to learn of her new church’s living nativity, and asked to help with makeup and costumes. Blair Monie, the senior pastor at Preston Hollow Presbyterian, says although Cochran is now the director of the event, she still likes to get down in the trenches.

 

“She’s a perfectionist when it comes to makeup and costumes,” Monie says.

 

And that’s just one part of the project. A manger must be built from scratch every year, and all of the characters must be identified, recruited, outfitted and rehearsed.

 

Cochran says there are two casts, consisting of multiple Josephs, shepherds, and kings. High school seniors at the church are cast as shepherds and Marys (sometimes as many as six).

 

The rest of the participants aren’t so easily corralled. Sheep, goats, rabbits, a donkey and a Shetland pony round out the ensemble cast. Cochran said she used to have the animals brought in from a friend’s farm in Royce City , but now a church member offers the furry crèche critters.

 

She tells the story of one December in the early ’80s when an ice storm prevented the shipment of Jersey cows from reaching the church. At the last minute, Cochran was able to borrow a baby steer from another church’s nativity scene.

 

All went well until a concerned neighbor called the pastor at 3 a.m. to report that the steer was in the middle of

Park Lane

.

 

“He didn’t want to go in the fence. The pastor tried to pull him in, and it practically threw him to the ground,” Cochran recalls. “He did finally got him in, though. And the next morning at the annual men’s breakfast, the pastor told the crowd, ‘I’m going to tell you a story, and it’s no bull.’ ”

 

In addition to multiple generations of livestock, participation in the living nativity has spanned multiple generations of Josephs, Marys, shepherds and kings to become a family tradition for countless church members. Linda Lehn started working on the Crèche with her mom at about the same time Dee started, except she was only 11 at the time.

 

“I remember Dee from that first Christmas,” Lehn says. “She just has a real artist’s touch, and she pays attention to every detail.”

 

Since then Lehn went on to play Mary in the nativity, her brother and dad became shepherds and kings, and now she’s carrying on the tradition in her family with both of her sons involved.

 

That’s what keeps Cochran motivated year after year.

 

“My feeling is it’s the holy family and our families,” she says. “So many just started out with children as a shepherd or a Mary and become more and more involved every year.

 

“All I ask is that what we’ve established — this family tradition — keeps going.”

 


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