First Christmas offers chance to visit interactive Bethlehem


A young visitor to First Christmas gets an elementary lesson in dyeing cloth from Janice Ryals.

A young visitor to First Christmas gets an elementary lesson in dyeing cloth from Janice Ryals. Photo by: Pamela Brownlee/Courtesy photo


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Hal Bullock portrays a spice and oil merchant in a First Christmas presentation by First Baptist Church in Columbus.

Hal Bullock portrays a spice and oil merchant in a First Christmas presentation by First Baptist Church in Columbus.
Photo by: Pamela Brownlee/Courtesy photo



Jan Swoope



Each December, for 17 years, First Baptist Church of Columbus has sought to bring something of the wonder of the first Christmas to the Golden Triangle through the recreation of first-century Bethlehem. The tradition continues Friday through Sunday, Dec. 7-9 at The Shops at Brickerton, near the intersection of Military Road and Bluecutt Road. Admission is free to the interactive village, where visitors get a glimpse of life as it may have been at the time of Jesus' birth. The presentation is 6-8 p.m. each evening. 


Originally presented in the First Baptist parking lot on Seventh Street North, the event outgrew those boundaries and moved in 2012 to the grounds at Brickerton. Beginning Friday, approximately 85 costumed actors from the church will portray Bethlehem's occupants during the time of Caesar Augustus' census of Israel. Venues include a synagogue, a typical Jewish home, many shops and craftsmen, a working eatery and, ultimately, the inn and stable.  


First Christmas planners work year-round on the event. Volunteers for construction, security, parking, hospitality, music and many more behind-the-scenes elements make up the team. In total, more than 150 people each day of the presentation make this their personal Christmas gift to the community, said participant Hal Bullock. For the past four years he has been a spice and oil merchant in the village, taking his role to heart, researching and acquiring authentic samples for the "shop."  


"The oil and spice shop will have actual frankincense, myrrh oil, Rose of Sharon oil and nard (spikenard) oil for visitors to sniff, along with a dozen other spices and herbs found in biblical Israel," said Bullock who will transition to a new role this year. 


Every venue and trade is researched to bring as much authenticity as possible to the village. A cloth merchant will demonstrate cloth dying using madder root, a common dye of first century Israel. The grainery will display all four of the most common grains from the period -- wheat, barley, millet and spelt. A fish monger will have real musht (tilapia) and sardines, the two most common fish of biblical Israel. Visitors to the eatery will sample authentic lentil stew, believed to be similar to the one Esau traded his birthright to Jacob for in the Bible, explained Bullock. 


The live nativity is an ultimate destination for visitors. Another favorite is the live animal paddock.  


Organizers expect 3,000 or more people to tour the village. Many make First Christmas an annual event, returning with their families to share what they first saw as a child themselves. This year, all will experience an addition to the presentation: As visitors exit Bethlehem, they will be transported 33 years into the future, to the site of the empty tomb. Committee members are excited to add "the rest of the story" to the already full First Christmas experience.  


Tina Gatewood, who returns as chair of the event, never tires of it.  


"It just seems every year we see more people -- and we see people that tell us they have never been before, even though we've been doing it 17 years, so it's important that we continue to do it," she said.  




Music and more 


Local musical performances just outside the First Christmas village proper will be presented Friday by Caledonia School Choirs at 6 p.m. and by Heritage Academy Elementary School students at 7 p.m. On Saturday, Suzuki Strings perform at 6 p.m. On Sunday at 6 p.m., hear the First Baptist Church Ladies Ensemble and Men of Praise.  


Admission is free. Complimentary refreshments will be offered. Visitors are encouraged to dress warmly and arrive in plenty of time to take in all the sights and sounds.  


For more information, contact the First Baptist Church office, 662-328-3915. 






WHO: First Baptist Church, Columbus 


WHAT: First Christmas, recreation of Bethlehem 


WHEN: Friday through Sunday, Dec. 7-9; 6-8 p.m.  


WHERE: Brickerton, near Military and Bluecutt Road intersection 


ADMISSION: Free. Call First Baptist Church for information, 662-328-3915


Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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