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Village of Bethlehem comes to life in Norridge

Tiffany Brown takes a shekel from the census taker, Catherine Fitzgerald, so that she may enter the city of Bethlehem during Christmas ceremony at Salvation Army in Norridge Dec. 14. | Kevin Tanaka/For Sun-Times Media.
Trinity Saber listens to the choir sing during Christmas ceremony at Salvation Army in Norridge Saturday afternoon 12-14-13.  Kevin Tanaka/For Sun-Times Media.
On the way to Bethlehem, the prophet Isiah, Major Joseph Wheeler, tells visitors of what to expect on their journey at Salvation Army's Christmas celebration in Norridge Saturday afternoon 12-14-13.  | Kevin Tanaka/For Sun-Times Media.
In spite of the weather, there was a line to enter the Salvation Army's  Christmas ceremony in Norridge Saturday afternoon 12-14-13. |  Kevin Tanaka/For Sun-Times Media.
At the town square market, Evangeline Engstrom of Chicago admires the bracelet she bought during the Christmas ceremony by the Salvation Army in Norridge Saturday afternoon 12-14-13. |  Kevin Tanaka/For Sun-Times Media.
Jaden Lawson of Des Plaines shakes his bells while singing "Jingle Bells" at the Christmas ceremony at the Salvation Army in Norridge Saturday afternoon 12-14-13.  | Kevin Tanaka/For Sun-Times Media.
At the Christmas market, Dorothy Wade, left and Janet Fox tend to the bakery stand  at the Salvation Army in Norridge Saturday afternoon 12-14-13.  Kevin Tanaka/For Sun-Times Media.
Norridge Saturday 12-14-13 Susan Purtell, right, makes sure she has enough shekels to pay Janet Fos for the bakery items she purchased at the Salvation Army Christmas celebration in Norridge Saturday afternoon 12-14-13.  Kevin Tanaka/For Sun-Times Media.
Natalie Steinberg dances in the town square of the Salvation Army Christmas ceremony in Norridge Saturday afternoon 12-14-13.  Kevin Tanaka/For Sun-Times Media.
Lily and Abbey Uyenishi use shekels to pay for their baskets while their mother, Amy looks on during the Salvation Army's Christmas celebration in Norridge Saturday afternoon 12-14-13.  Kevin Tanaka/For Sun-Times Media.
Guide Liz Smith leads a group through Bethlehem at the Christmas ceremony by the Salvation Army in Norridge Saturday afternoon 12-14-13.  Kevin Tanaka/For Sun-Times Media.
Norridge Saturday 12-14-13 On a tour of Bethlehem, a king, Larry Urban, tells of a bright star that lead them to the Bethlehem at the Salvation Army in Norridge Saturday afternoon 12-14-13.  Kevin Tanaka/For Sun-Times Media.
Norridge Saturday 12-14-13 Joseph (Sam Yoder) right, tells how he will take care of Mary even though it's not his child during Christmas ceremony at Salvation Army in Norridge Saturday afternoon 12-14-13.  Kevin Tanaka/For Sun-Times Media.

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.

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