December 4, 2010 10:15:00 PM
The "glitz and glitter" of decorations, wrapping paper and bows might bring excitement during the holiday season. But if you take your family back over 2,000 years to the streets of Bethlehem, the true reason for the season can be found. That''s the invitation First Baptist Church of Columbus is extending to everyone this holiday season.
Visit the church campus at 202 Seventh St. N. Dec. 10-12 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 10th annual Columbus Christmas Festival. The event has been titled this year as First Christmas -- The Columbus Christmas Festival.
Festival Director Diane Gatewood said the event, free to the public, has gotten bigger and better each year. "Each year, we try to improve and add things to enhance our ministry," Gatewood said of the event which drew close to 2,000 people in 2009.
Involving hundreds of volunteers and cast members, the event has drawn visitors from other cities, other states and even other countries. People are taking notice. "This is our gift to the community," Gatewood explained. "More than anything we want to involve them in what Christmas is all about, that God loves them and gave them Jesus Christ. We consider it our gift to the community and our church. It always brings us closer together," she added.
Massive preparations involving thousands of man-hours began in earnest in May. The work has been steady ever since, according to Gatewood. "It''s exciting to see how we''ve progressed. We learn something new every year that allows us to reach more people with the story of the First Christmas," Gatewood said.
In preparation, church members have worked on costumes, life-sized sets for the Bethlehem marketplace, located live animals for the scenes, procured materials or artifacts reminiscent of the period, rehearsed scenes and accomplished a variety of other tasks. Church volunteers designed and constructed the village sets, which are made of panels that are bolted in place. This design enables church members to easily disassemble the sets for re-use during the next festival.
"Whew," Gatewood said with a smile. "The joy we receive by working on this event manifests itself in the people who attend. It truly is a gift that the community has embraced."
There are about 400 volunteers and a cast of about 150 people involved in the event.
The outdoor marketplace will include a pottery shop, leather shop, fabric and weaving shop, carpentry shop, basket shop and 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 counted for the census and given wooden tokens with which to pay their tax. Authentic Middle Eastern food will be on hand as well.
Registration begins 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 everyone to bring friends. The gospel will be presented, and there will be wonderful fellowship," Gatewood 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 about the festival, contact the church office at 662-328-3915.