DR JERRY Falwell founded Thomas Road Baptist Church (TRBC) in 1956 when he was merely 22 years old. Originally located at 701 Thomas Rd., his congregation began with just 35 members. That young congregation would quickly become one of the fastest-growing churches in the country. In the early 1970s, Falwell saw a church in California host a Christmas production that featured a choir standing inside a giant tree structure. He was mesmerized by this innovation and decided to bring the idea to the East Coast. That was the beginning of a Central Virginia tradition — the Living Christmas Tree.
The original structure that held the choir was crafted from steel and covered with chicken wire and live evergreen branches. In those days, the lights were simply #9 bulbs turned on and off by flipping switches. Over the years, as technology advanced, so did the lighting system of the Living Christmas Tree. The invention of the MidiLite System, created by TRBC Technical Director Jon Daggett, introduced a new lighting experience for the audience.
As the popularity of this production grew, the number of shows did as well. For the next 30 years, TRBC would host over 12 performances throughout two weekends, attracting nearly 40,000 people annually. In 2006, TRBC moved to its new location with a 5,000-seat auditorium. The decision was made to purchase not one but two new tree structures that towered some 33 feet, holding more than 200 singers. The production would then be known as the Virginia Christmas Spectacular. A few years later, the team decided to go back to one tree as the set expanded across the stage. “Dr Falwell wanted our community and those coming in for the show to really experience Christmas in as much of a Broadway fashion as possible. As always, we continue to pursue excellence with our productions and steward the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” said Executive Producer and Worship Pastor Scott Bullman.
Bullman, who has overseen the production for over a decade, along with creative director Denise Thomas and close to 400 volunteers, are excited to present this year’s Christmas on Route 66 production. “We are going back to the late 1950s in a little town in New Mexico called Tannenbaum. That’s all the hints you get,” said Bullman. This production comes together because of the efforts of a lot of wonderfully talented volunteers. According to Bullman, nearly 400 people make this show possible. “We have people in various roles, from set building to costuming, musicians, soloists, and choir members — all talented individuals who love the Lord, the church, and love serving with their gifts and talents.”
When asked what his favorite year was, Bullman responded, “It’s hard to narrow it down to just one, but there are certainly some moments I’ll never forget. Like the year the unruly camel fell into the orchestra pit. Or when the Kabuki curtain failed to drop at the beginning of the show. I went on stage to offer some sort of cover-up remarks when suddenly the curtain decided to drop literally inches behind me. That got a response from the audience.”
In 2021, TRBC celebrated 50 years of the Virginia Christmas Spectacular. The tradition continues, and you are invited to witness this unforgettable Christmas celebration, Dec. 8-10. “We receive cards, letters, and emails from people who have been blessed by this event,” said Bullman. “It’s been a joy for me to serve as the executive producer for the past 10-12 years and to serve with such a wonderful team. TRBC would like to invite everyone to come and be a part of this celebration.”
“Each year, we tell the Christmas story of the coming of our Savior as a baby, and this year, the takeaway of our Christmas Spectacular will be that God is sovereign. He has placed us exactly where He wants us to be according to His purpose. We feel this is a timeless truth and one that is going to speak loudly to a lot of folks right now who are finding themselves in an in-between season of their plans versus God’s plans.” GN