Built over a section of the church parking lot, Bethlehem was enclosed on the sides and had a canvas roof to keep out the rain and snow. During the five years we recreated this town the actors endured some of the bitterest winter nights our city had seen in years. For eight days every December, we all layered up in thermal underwear, put hunters’ hot hands in our shoes and in our pockets, and endured the cold for the privilege of being in the town of Christ’s birth. And what a privilege it was.
We had gossiping women at the well, roaming shepherds searching for the baby Jesus, asking townspeople and visitors if they had seen the child or the chorus of angels singing in the sky. Wise men camped on the road outside the town and engaged visitors in conversation about the star. Roman guards oppressed the townspeople, and citizens hawked their wares in the city streets. Pharisees taught young boys, in Hebrew, about the coming Messiah. We even had a beggar who spent more time being shoved into the soggy mulch pathways by burly Roman guards than he spent upright. The town was alive, bustling with people and imaginary lives that became real and grew and morphed over the seasons we spent in the town.
Noise was a huge factor in our Bethlehem. From the minute visitors were lead into the town by the caravan master, the din of voices could be heard everywhere. Roman guards bellowed and ordered everyone around. Shopkeepers tried to sell their breads or fruit or pottery or fabric. The women at the well laughed and carried on. The people in the inn complained. Sheep and goats in the pens bawled and baaed.
Then you passed through the inn into a short hall to the manger and everything changed.
Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus took center stage, nestled in a corner of the hay-filled stable. Mary softly sang a lullaby in Hebrew to the sleeping child. The townspeople visiting the manger spoke in hushed tones. The shepherds knelt and worshipped the baby. Visitors whispered to their children as they took in the scene of Holy Family.