When three camels carry the Three Wise Men along Constitution Avenue next week, those who follow them will be surprised.
They will see a 55-minute extravaganza of the Christmas story, with farm animals, the town of Jerusalem, Herod's Temple, peddlers, Roman soldiers on horseback, women at a well, Mary, Joseph, child - a cast of 60.
The hill at the Washington Monument will have been turned into "Jerusalem" and shepherding hills by the time of the first two performances on Sunday at 7 and 8:30 p.m. Other programs will be conducted nightly through Christmas Eve.
The animals, including the camels, were trucked from a Connecticut farm. "Joseph" was "discovered" behind the ice cream counter at Swensen's in Georgetown. The "macho" Roman Centurian managed a local 7-11 store.
An amateur cast was assembled over the past year by director Francisco de Araujo, an area music conductor. "I was doing a gig in Boston, and I asw the most beautiful girl for Mary. So, we flew her down," he said.
This is the fourth year for the pageant, sponsored by the Christian Service Corps., a donor-supported "peace corps of Christian missionaries" in the words of its president, Robert N. Meyers.
The $12,000 production - $3,000 for lights alone - was paid for by area business firms who are listed on the program for $200 each, and the rest by small individual contributions, according to Meyers.
An estimated total of 10,000 people saw the production last year.
"We have gotten away from the stereotyped Christmas card attractions. We try to get some live, everyday situation tension into the scenes." said director de Araujo in an interview.
"For example, the scene at the inn. What the typical 20th century person thinks about the inn scene is that it's quiet 'O Little Town of Bethlehem.' It wasn't like that. Behind the scene they're singing 'O Little Town of Bethlehem.' But down in front of them we have a drunken brawl," he said.
"I'm sick and tired of the tinsel and commercialization behind Christmas." he continued. "This is a dramatic presentation, about real live people . . . Christ came into a wild situation. The world was at its worst . . .
"I grew up watching the Radio City Music Hall production. It just couldn't touch this. We get to the guts of the story and make it come alive. We've got to stop idealizing (the Christmas story) before it becomes an unbelievable fairy tale."
He admits that there is a great deal of romanticizing in his version as well.
"This year, we play Mary and Joseph very romantically instead of as untouchable saints. As they ride across the hill on the moonlight, he's very attentive to her, he stops every little way to wipe her brow and give her a drink. It's very touching," he said.
The production will continue nightly through Christmas Eve with performances at 7 and 8:30 o'clock.