Savannah, Ga. - Bart Traywick took a few minutes from what he was doing to talk to the reporter at the bottom of the stairs that lead to the altar at the Basilica Cathedral of St. John the Baptist Church, Savannah. Traywick, a longtime parishioner and a volunteer coordinator was in the middle of taking apart the structure that held the Nativity scene. Made of a dozen or so wooden platforms that he built in the basement of the church a few years ago, he and five other volunteers including longtime Cathedral parishioner John Pryor, Joe Moriarty and John Atwell had been working since early that morning to get the Christmas decorations from inside and outside of the church back into storage boxes and on carts to go to a storage facility. “We have to be finished by the first Sunday of Ordinary Time,” said Traywick about the team’s deadline.
On Tuesday morning there were 490 poinsettia plants in the Cathedral and each and every one of them needed to find a new home before Sunday Mass. There were also 18 quarter reefs in the windows, 13 large reefs on the columns and the walls, four large Christmas trees; two on the altar and two others outside of the sanctuary, not to mention garland and ribbons as far as the eye could see. The job that is decorating one of the most popular religious structures in the state of Georgia, and arguably the south, is a task that takes dozens of volunteers. From the floral displays to the miniature statuettes of baby Jesus and his parents, the Virgin Mary and Joseph the carpenter, there is a lot of work that goes into making an already beautifully decorated parish even more beautiful for the holidays. “Just watching it develop is just heartwarming,” said Traywick. “It’s beautiful.”
Being a part of the team that helps put it together is pretty special as well. “It’s a unique experience,” said Pryor. “You feel very proud when people come through here and say how good everything looks.” That day as the team took the displays down, a ceramic camel rested on a cart by the elevator, visitors to the Cathedral were looking on, taking photographs of the altar. “It feels good.”
The design and artistic visualization of displays comes courtesy of former parishioner Orlando Cuadra, a art teacher and graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design who now lives in Lake Worth, Florida. Cuadra comes back to Savannah every year to tell a Christmas story, somehow different from the one he helped design the year before. “Every year it’s slightly different,” added Traywick. “Orlando is the artistic genius behind it and we’re the pack mules. We couldn’t do it without him and he couldn’t do it without us.”
Cuadra and the team began working on the Christmas display, particularly beyond the altar, December 8. A team of 6-12 volunteers at a time helped take Cuadra’s vision and make it a reality. There are usually more volunteers looking to help but smaller crews allow Traywick to better manage the work that needs to be done. Those that do get a chance to help are usually coming back year after year according to Traywick. “These guys love it once you can trick them into doing it,” joked Traywick who is retired. “Some of the guys have come back time after time.”
It took eight days to put all of the decorations and decorative structures together at the Cathedral. It will take three to take it apart.
“Next Christmas we’ll repeat it again, said Traywick.”