Night in Bethlehem

Yesterday at around four o’clock, I ditched the costumes for the party. Both the boys’ were done, as well as DH’s, but mine and Abby’s were just piles of fabric. No way my boys were going to dress up if mama wasn’t. Carefully weighing it out- should I stress and yell and cry and try and make two more costumes inside of an hour, or should I ditch and go to the party and have fun? Hmmm. Yeah, I went upstairs and cracked a Fresca and put my feet up. Maybe next year for costumes…

The party was fabulous. Truly the best church party we’ve ever attended. When we arrived, there were luminaries lighting the way to the front of the church, and Roman soldiers standing guard and brusquely pointing the way. The idea was that we were all going to Bethlehem to be counted for the census, and the soldiers were a nice touch.

Inside, we were herded into the dimmed chapel, masses of people in biblical garb surrounded by soldiers- we milled around, while some young women sang hymns at he front. The Roman soldiers came in a banged their standards on the ground, and instructed us toward the back to be counted. The folding doors were cracked just enough to let people through, where more Romans were standing guard, collecting our “taxes” (canned goods) in order to be admitted to the city.

Once inside the gym (It’s a gym, not a cultural hall!) the lights were low, and twinkling Christmas lights had been strung all around the edge of the room. A marketplace had been set up, and we were each given a small bag of coins and a basket. With our coins, we got to purchase our dinners. There were no tables or chairs set up, and we spread our blanket on the ground. (There was a bower with chairs and reclining couches for older folks).

The booths were made from hewn beams (we happen to have a few carpenters in the ward, and this was apparent from the beauty of the booths!) with canvas tops, grape vines, pottery, and even small “fires” lit the evening. (The fires were cauldrons with up-blowing fans, orange light-bulbs and fabric, but the ambiance was great.) There were booths selling grape juice, honey cakes, beggars purses full of wheat and herbs, dates, tangerines and dried fruit, a cheese and olive stand, a bakery with unleavened bread and other goodies. You took your family and your basket, bought your food, and sat on your blanket to eat. I have never seen so many people socializing and having so much fun… The kids were having a ball, and the blankets spread everywhere seemed to really open up the conversations between different families.

As dinner was winding down, (we have a DJ in our ward, with the requisite Bill Kurtis voice) a man began to read from Luke, and a spotlight shone on a young woman and man walking among the families on their blankets. It was Mary and Joseph, amid the crowds of Bethlehem, looking for a place to stay… A hush fell over the room, as we watched Mary and Joseph make their way, narrated by radio-voice guy.

The Holy couple were of course turned away from the booths, and made their way to the stage, where a barn (again, fabulous carpenters at work) was constructed, and they had put up gauze curtains, so the Christmas lights shone though the firmament over the barn. Nice touch.

There on stage, the rest of the story was acted out, including a choir of angels all in white calling the shepherds to be not afraid. Of course, Mary had a real baby- three week old Mason S. stood in for the Christ child. We finished by singing O Holy Night. There were tears in my eyes.

As we left, the three wise men were at the doors, along with the Roman guards, and they were handing out small, hinged wooden chests. Inside was a red velvet bed with a piece of gold, some frankincense and myrrh resin, as well as a parchment with the meaning of the gifts given to the Christ child.

The activities committee outdid themselves on this one, and our kids never even asked about Santa Claus. Like I said, it was a fabulous night.

12 thoughts on “Night in Bethlehem

  1. Our ward dinner was insane – there had to be at *least* a couple of hundred people there (we have a big ward), and it was unruly and pretty much without the Spirit. I’m going to print out the details of your ward activity and put it in my “someday?” file – thanks for sharing!

  2. That is such a cool activity!! I want to be in your ward! We didn’t go to ours cuz DH had to study for finals and I was not going alone (did that last year) with Peanut. It’s nice they didn’t have to include Santa and the kids didn’t even miss it.

  3. You know, I really have no clue… I know I donated the twinkle lights, and I assume many other people donated things too, but I’m sure at least the food came from the ward budget…

  4. Wow.
    Jared and I considered taking you up in your invite and going, but I decided against it. Big mistake obviously. I felt the wonder of it all just reading your thoughts, wish we’d gone.
    Well, there’s always next year right?

  5. hello, i was surfing around and found your blog. very cool.
    your ward must be RICH, that sounds like an awesome Christmas activity. i can’t imagine anyone in our ward who would even want to pose as roman guards. i really love the idea of no santa claus at a ward activity. they can see santa everywhere else, why have him at church?

  6. Aubrey, thanks for stopping by… I don’t know about our ward richness- certainly WE are not- but we ARE a very active ward, and there were plenty of people willing to help out and play parts. It was really a wonderful experience.

  7. Hello! I’ve lurked here before! I love the details of your party! Our Ward did that this year as well, and everyone just loved it! You had a lot more going on at yours, but i’ll defineatly be writing all those decorating ideas down for next year! The guards are such a great idea!

  8. This party sounds like heaven! We just had a bunch of long tables crammed into our gym with barely room to sit and no activities whatsoever for the kids. It was a nightmare for most of the people who brought their children because the people running the party didn’t get the dinner started for an HOUR after we got there so most of the time was just spent keeping our kids from ruining all the table prep.

    Our bishop doesn’t even have an activities committee because he thinks we are all over scheduled already and don’t need more things to do. I heartily disagree – yes, we are over scheduled, but I would like to have a few nice not-church get togethers with our ward friends. Oh well.

  9. WOW! Can I come to your ward party next year? We didn’t even have one. Our Activities Committee got changed in October and apparently didn’t feel like they had enough time to plan a Ward Christmas Party. Go figure!

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