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Christmas Festival brings Bethlehem to life


Brad Barr, Special to The Dispatch



Bright, colorful paper and fancy bows might add to the glitz and glamour associated with the holiday season. But if you were able to take your family back over 2,000 years to the streets of Bethlehem, the true reason for the season could be found. 


That''s the opportunity First Baptist Church of Columbus (FBC) is extending to everyone this holiday season. 


Visit the church campus at 202 Seventh St. N. Dec. 11-13 and enjoy the sights, sounds and events surrounding the Christmas Story. An authentic marketplace complete with live animals, and outdoor and indoor drama scenes highlight the ninth annual Columbus Christmas Festival. 


Columbus Christmas Festival Director Diane Gatewood said the event, free to the public, has gotten better each year.  


"Much research has been done in preparation for this year''s festival in order to make it as accurate and authentic as possible. Church members who are on the Christmas Festival Committee have been working many months in order to make all aspects of the festival the best they can be," Gatewood said. "This is a ministry of First Baptist Church of Columbus that portrays not only the birth of Jesus, the Savior for Christian believers, but also presents his plan of salvation to all who attend." 




Gift to the community 


Involving hundreds of volunteers and cast members, the festival has drawn visitors from other cities, other states and even other countries. People are taking notice of the event. How did it all begin?  


"The festival began as a concept born out of the music and drama ministries of First Baptist Church," said Bobby Sanderson, minister of music at FBC. "Elements of the festival were borrowed from past experience, but the overall concept was original. It sought to involve our entire congregation in giving a Christmas gift to our community. We have presented the festival in several different formats, but the Bethlehem Village has remained the one constant in all those years. It seems to be the one thing that impacts people like nothing else we''ve done." 




New additions 


Massive preparations involving hundreds of man- (and woman-) hours began in earnest early this year. The work has been steady ever since, according to Gatewood. In fact, this year''s visitors can expect to see some new additions to the festival.  


"A number of new features have been added to the village. Those who will be characters in the village have been learning what life in Bethlehem would have been like at the time of Christ''s birth," she explained.  


Sanderson said the village drama will extend into the church building this year. "There is a new way to enter the building which involves an indoor stable scene which tells the story of Jesus'' birth, and it involves a special video presentation," he added. 


In preparation for the festival, church members have worked on costumes, life-sized sets for the Bethlehem market place, located live animals for the scenes, procured materials or artifacts reminiscent of the period, rehearsed scenes and accomplished a variety of other tasks. 


There are about 400 volunteers and a cast of about 150 people involved in the event. 




Realistic experience 


The outdoor marketplace will include a pottery shop, leather shop, fabric and weaving shop, carpentry shop, basket shop, fish market as well as other shops. Accompanied by a guide, visitors will tour the town of Bethlehem and experience what life would have been like in the village on the night of Jesus'' birth, Gatewood said. 


Pilgrims to the festival may encounter Roman soldiers. At the entrance to the marketplace, visitors may be given wooden tokens with which to pay their tax.  


The festival opens at 6 p.m. and ends around 8 p.m. Those in line at 8 p.m. will not be turned away.  


"We would encourage our fellow believers to bring their lost friends. The gospel will be presented and there will be wonderful fellowship," Sanderson said. 


Parking will be marked, and volunteers will be on hand to assist with parking and security. Guides will be available to direct those attending the festival. The festival entrance will be near the T.E. Lott Building at the intersection of Seventh Street and Third Avenue North. 


For more information on the Columbus Christmas Festival, contact First Baptist Church at 662-328-3915.



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