This weekend: Afton’s Bethlehem Village presents the greatest story ever told

Bethlehem starBy Lynn R. Mitchell

Afton, Virginia’s, Bethlehem Village has been around for over a decade and returns this year, much to the delight of thousands who have made it an annual Christmas tradition. One of the nation’s longest-running and largest re-enactments of the true story of Christmas, it is free and open to the public, running nightly December 18-22, 2015, from 6-9:00 p.m. On Sunday, December 20, gates will open early from 5-9:00 p.m., with an Hispanic tour at 7:00 p.m. that day.

Imagine a little village that existed long before colorful Christmas lights, reindeer, or Santa Claus. Roman Soldiers walk the streets, Wise Men appear with their camels, shop keepers are going about their everyday lives yet this village is on the brink of something immense, the birth of one who would forever change the course of human history. Experience this village as it really was. Come to Bethlehem and see for yourself the magic and wonder of the first Christmas.

Step back in time as you enter the gates of Bethlehem of Judea. The Roman emperor has issued an order that a census be taken throughout the Empire and every citizen must register. On a cold winter’s night you are traveling streets illuminated by torchlight, wandering deeper into the heart of a village where cautious Roman soldiers patrol the crowd, Wise men, shepherds, livestock are among the many passersby, shops and shopkeepers inhabit a bustling marketplace, and welcoming cheer abounds. Now, far away from the tinseled trees and crowded malls that most commonly usher in the Christmas holiday season, this is an event no one should miss.

The recreated village was built on the grounds of Hebron Baptist Church complete with shops that include working olive press, carpenters, music, scribe, and weapons shops as well as live camels, over 50 costumed re-enact0rs of the time of Christ’s birth, a living nativity, the inn, and singing angels.

Amidst the quiet cold in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains, you are absorbed into the time and place in a way that is unique and presents a moving experience for all. Watch out for the Roman soldiers! They may stop to inquire as to why you are there … they are suspicious of strangers. Check out the animals and the houses … talk with the shop keepers and village dwellers … sit by the fire and warm up.

The website describes the experience: “As visitors wander the village they’ll find that the inn is full, the streets are crowded with the masses in town to register for the census, livestock in the nearby stables seem restless, and there is a palpable energy as an inexplicably bright star beams brightly into the Afton night. As Roman guards patrol the streets, little does anyone in Bethlehem realize they are on the precipice of history as the birth of the coming Messiah takes place in a meager stable, changing the world and its course forever.”

Bethlehem Village is a ministry of Rockfish Valley churches and community members, a gift of love to surrounding communities. For more information on the village including directions and special events during the week please visit the Bethlehem Village website.

Dress warmly and be ready to walk through living history. I promise it will be an evening you will not forget.

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