A focus on the birth of Christ during the Christmas season has always been as important to our family celebrations as presents and parties and decorations. I would have to be a pie eyed optimist (and a little bit of a liar) though, if I insisted that the kids weren’t more focused on the presents and pageantry than anything else. As much as we try to emphasize the story of Christ at Christmas, the presents are just so darn tangible and awesome sitting there in a giant pile with wrapping strewn everywhere. It’s a struggle to make the story of the first Christmas compare mainly because it is often read from a book that doesn’t even have pictures. A generation that is constantly bombarded with multimedia input sometimes needs something with a little more realism to bring the story into focus.
Our tangible understanding of the Nativity changed completely a few years ago when we happened upon a presentation called Journey to Bethlehem at a nearby church. Journey to Bethlehem is a 45 minute interactive presentation that follows the path that Mary and Joseph might have taken on their trip to from Nazareth to Bethlehem. This is not a presentation where you just sit back and watch; each attendee has an active part in the journey. At the entrance you are transformed into a Jewish man or woman or boy or girl with issuance of a new name and passport, which you carry with you throughout the experience.
Along with a Jewish family, who serves as your guide, you travel from your home in Nazareth to Bethlehem to be counted in the Roman census and pay your taxes. Along the way you meet all kinds of characters, from shepherds watching their flocks by night to wise men following a star. Of course, the Roman centurions are every present to sternly hurry the journey along. The animals-sheep, camels, and horses-in all their smelly splendor add the just the right touch of reality.
Once you reach the city of Bethlehem, the taxes must be paid and the passports must be stamped and there is the matter of finding a place to stay. After wandering through the marketplace, and a chance to do a bit of bargaining, you learn that there is no room at the inn and you are led to a humble stable for the night. Although the stable seems to be full, you are welcomed into the first ever Christmas celebration In an intimate moment, that concludes with the singing of Silent Night, you meet the newborn baby as the story comes to life in a way that is so corporeal that it stays with you long after the glow of Christmas has faded.
Know Before You Go:
- Journey to Bethlehem runs from December 1-5 from 5:30-9:00 at Church at the Cross in Grapevine.
- This is a very popular event and lines can be up to 2-3 hours long. To shorten your wait, arrive early in the evening or plan to attend on Thursday or Monday when the crowds are the lightest.
- The lines are divided into three sections: outside, inside, and auditorium. You will be standing for the outside and inside lines, but once in the auditorium you will have a place to sit and will be able to enjoy the entertainment. The entertainment inside the auditorium (puppet skits, games, humorous videos, and sing along) is one of our favorite parts of the evening.
- Snacks are available inside the building and can be purchased at any time. You are also welcome to bring your own food.
- The majority of the event occurs outside, so dress accordingly.
- Hang on to the passports that are given to you as you enter. Kids love showing them to the centurions and having them stamped in Bethlehem.
- Strollers are allowed, but the terrain is somewhat rocky so navigating will be difficult. Bring a baby carrier for the little ones if possible.
- All of the performers play very convincing parts, but the Roman centurions can be particularly scary to young kids. If you have kids that are easily scared or frightened you might want to prepare them ahead of time that the centurions are just pretending like on TV.
- Some years food to sample has been available inside the Bethlehem market, so be aware of that if you have any family members with food allergies.
- Hot chocolate is available free of charge at the end of the journey
~Photos Courtesy of Journey to Bethlehem~