Every year around this time, families begin to get caught up in the frenzy of the holiday season that has little to do with the real meaning of Christmas.
But at Emmanuel Baptist Church, the community is invited to slow down and take a journey back in time to begin Christmas where Christmas began in the annual journey that is Bethlehem Star.
The free family event begins in a first century marketplace, where you can barter for goods, join the Roman Army or learn how to shepherd a flock. The marketplace is bustling with activity and has something for everyone.
Bethlehem Star coordinator Shay Hentschel has been involved since the beginning, about five years ago. She said the idea originally came from a pastor whose previous church in Parksville had done a similar event.
“He brought the idea to our board and members and everyone thought it was a wonderful idea to work collaboratively together and to give back to our community,” she said. “This is our gift to the community, to begin your Christmas where Christmas began, and for people to see and learn what Christmas is all about.
“Last year, it was minus 17 but we still had more than 3,000 people attend over the weekend, and this year we’d like to see even more — and we do have people who come back every year.”
The massive event brings together about 20 different teams which meet to plan the message they want to share, as well as details of the event, such as what needs to be changed and what should remain the same.
“This year we wanted it to have that back-in-time Bethlehem feel from the moment you walk in, so we kept the things that people like,” said Hentschel. “And once you come over the bridge into the parking lot, it will be a shepherd’s field, with sheep, as if literally you were coming into Bethlehem; once you come into the tent, that will be the Bethlehem market, where you get the shekels and the different booths, but we’re always tweaking it.”
This year, the market has been expanded to include a live auction and a chance to experience life in the town square.
“We’ll have the Centurions who are always looking to recruit for Caesar’s army and they get going quite enthusiastically.”
The marketplace then leads to a replica of a Bethlehem village, depicting people in their own homes, how they lived and the activities they would be taking part in within their village.
“We’ll have the inn and of course the live nativity — we’re blessed to have lots of babies at our church,” said Hentschel, adding that it’s never difficult finding volunteers for the roles of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. “And then there is also going to be a rabbinical school, like a synagogue, with rabbis teaching.”
A fun feature for kids of all ages — as well as adults — is the photo booth, where people can put on costumes and have a souvenir photo to take home.
On entering the village, you will be served hot cocoa and cookies to enjoy as you take in the sights.
And finally, a live theatrical production will take place in the sanctuary of the church, where everyone can also enjoy singing a selection of well-known Christmas carols.
“We have between 200 and 250 volunteers that give their time, doing everything from baking cookies to tending sheep,” said Hentschel. “There are a lot of people who don’t know what Christmas is all about anymore, and that’s what’s important for us.
“This really brings our church together — we have people who might not have sat in church together but they sign up to do these jobs, so here they are in a stall together in the marketplace. So we find it’s really a double blessing, especially if we have new people — it really draws them in.”
Bethlehem Star takes place Friday from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Emmanuel Baptist Church is at 3412-15th. Ave., with parking across the street at the ball diamonds.
Just follow the big spotlight that will be guiding visitors to the church, much as the Three Kings followed the star to that stable in Bethlehem so long ago.