The ancient town of Bethlehem came to life in Norridge.
On Dec. 13 and 14, the Salvation Army Norridge Citadel decked out its gymnasium to resemble what Bethlehem would have been more than 2,000 years ago as the townsfolk experienced the first Christmas.
The 18th annual Come to Bethlehem is a kind of live nativity, explained Pamela Church-Pryor, community ministries director.
“Each room of our building is transformed into an aspect of the Christmas story, starting with the Prophet Isaiah foretelling the birth of Jesus, on to Caesar’s room, the census room, the shepherd’s room, the king’s room and into the marketplace, where guests are encouraged to look for the star under which they will find the baby Jesus in the manger with Joseph and Mary,” she said. “Over 150 people are costumed.”
The marketplace is a replication of what one might have found at the time with sellers in stalls offering bread, jewelry and other items. Added to the real feel were live camels and sheep. Sheep also took up residence in the manger room.
“After guests tour Bethlehem, they are invited to go into the sanctuary for a beautiful Christmas concert with our band, choir and drama team,” Church-Pryor said. “Mary rides into our sanctuary on a donkey, holding baby Jesus, accompanied by Joseph. “It’s really very moving.”
Anne Urban, a member of the church for 32 years, has volunteered for the Come to Bethlehem program for all of its 18 years.
“I moved into the neighborhood and wanted something close to home,” she said. “The people here live a Christian life every day, not just on Sundays.”
She described the event as a walk through time.
“You go on the same route as they did,” she said. “And this is an opportunity to educate people that (the Norridge Salvation Army) is a church, first and foremost, that also offers social services.”
Armia Faltes participated for the second year, this time playing the role of Joseph, the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
“I do this especially for my child, who’s 5 months old,” Faltes said. “This is such a joyful event.”
Michael Himes, one of the three wise men, was in the very first production, and has participated ever since except for when he was in college.
He continues to participate because the program helps make the experience of the birth of Christ more real, he said.
Eva Pecore came to see the re-enactment with friends and family.
“It’s like you’re traveling through Bethlehem,” she said. “You get the full effect of what it was like.”
She noted the pageant includes all different perspectives, from the kings of the times to the peasants.’
“This takes you on a journey through their journey,” she explained.