A little Christmas gem in the northwest corner of Los Angeles is the "Back to Bethlehem" event, held on the two weekends before Christmas.
This year the event will be held at St. Stephen Presbyterian Church 20121 Devonshire Street in Chatsworth.
The event's web site describes it as "more than a nativity scene ... not a play". That is an understatement. It's a very impressive re-enactment of what life might have been like in Bethlehem as Mary and Joseph would have experienced it, entirely staffed by volunteers.
These photos were taken a few years ago when my family and I attended.
The wait to get in is very minimal. While Los Angeles doesn't get snow, it can surprisingly cold, especially at night. OK, not East Coast or Midwest cold, but still pretty chilly. If you plan on attending, you'll probably want to bring a warm jacket - and hats and gloves.
It's also an outdoor event - and certain evenings will be canceled if it's raining. Check their website.
Hundreds of volunteers do an amazing job bringing this event to life.
There was "no room at the inn" ... but a donkey outside of the simple stable nearby gave a hint of what might be inside.
Waiting to visit Mary and Joseph, and their newborn son.
This is a fantastic event for families to help explain the Christmas story to their children.
Mary and Joseph inside the stable, sharing the story of the first Christmas with the thousands of visitors every night. Each year this event attracts 18,000 people over two weekends. The night we went, the event seemed well attended but never felt overly crowded.
Outside the stable, sheep and goats. A reminder of the environment Jesus was born into. A volunteer lets kids touch a goat.
At the edge of Bethlehem is the rabbi school. Children and adults gather around to hear the village rabbi share the prophecies about Messiah from Old Testament prophet Isaiah.
Every visitor receives free shekels at the entrance. Spices were just one of the many items you could buy.
The Roman soldiers walking around were a reminder that Bethlehem in the first century was a conquered, occupied territory (I have no idea how these guys - again, all volunteers - stayed warm in togas and sandals.)
Pomegranates. This vendor was smart and was prepared for a chilly evening.
Warm bread: another popular item.
The shops and stalls were in a circle around a large field that is part of the church's property. When we attended, the entire event was outdoors (I'm assuming that is still the case).
Our kids loved the freedom of being able to go from booth to booth, running around buying little things, having the small samples of food. It really helped bring the Bible to life: Jesus was born in a real place at a real time.
A shepherd recounting his experience of the angelic visitation announcing Jesus' birth. What was impressive was that this particular volunteer playing the role of a shepherd was bi-lingual.
It was neat seeing the diversity of visitors that night, as well as many of the volunteers. A reminder that the gospel is for "all the people."
At the edge of Bethlehem, a group of Magi were encamped, looking for "Him was was born King of the Jews."
Here's a map and link to directions. Parking is free and there is $2 per person suggested donation to help cover some of their costs in putting on this outstanding event.
On behalf of our family and the thousands of kids and adults who experience this every year, a huge THANK YOU to the hundreds of volunteers that make this event happen!
While the concept of a "walk through Bethlehem" is not unique to Los Angeles, it is the largest American city where an event like this can be held - weather permitting - entirely outdoors. Hard to image this in a place like Chicago or New York. Come to think of it, our climate (Mediterranean) is also the most similar to what Jesus and those around him would have experienced.
In what can unfortunately been a very busy and stressful time of the year, this final photo sums up both this event, and Christmas itself:
"Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Luke 2: 10-12
© 2013 www.experiencingla.com
originally published 12/14/08