During the holidays, I scan the newspaper for announcements of activities for families. In addition to attending parks and recreation-sponsored craft fairs, holiday concerts and Lunch With Santa, I check out other community events. “King Mountain Church Offers Walk-Through Bethlehem Program,” one notice read. The article described an amazing free experience in which the public could stroll through a re-creation of Bethlehem, complete with real camels, sheep, hundreds of biblically dressed characters and even a live Baby Jesus.
The article continued, “Experience the atmosphere of shopping at open-air markets, and see what life was like as Mary and Joseph entered Bethlehem. Peek inside authentically reproduced homes as people go about their day-to-day lives as they would during the time Jesus was born."
That night, my family dressed in warm clothes, knowing we would be walking through Bethlehem. This was apparently a popular event as I watched cars in a long line leading to the parking lot. Shepherds--complete with beards and long, flowing robes--greeted us at the entrance.
“Bethlehem is pretty crowded tonight. I’m going to have you be the first to park in the overflow parking lot. Follow this road up the hill, and another shepherd will guide you to the remote parking area,” he told us. We dutifully followed directions and sure enough, met another shepherd, holding an adorable lamb, who told us, “Follow this road to the second left. Then turn right at the edge of the groove of trees. Take a sharp left after that turn and park there.”
As Shepherd Number Two gave directions, our daughter Sondra chattered away in the back seat, “That little lamb is so cute. Look at his tiny nose. Can I get a lamb? I promise to take good care of it. I’m very responsible, you know. Dad, do you like sheep? Why don’t we buy a sheep tonight?”
Main Street Mayhem
As we slowly pulled away, my husband asked if I understood the directions. “Of course! We’ll be the leaders driving to the remote parking area.” In the distance, we could see Bethlehem, lit by torches.
“That man’s leading a camel!” Sondra shouted. I assured her we’d soon be walking through Bethlehem, up close and personal with the camel. “This is the second left. Turn here,” I instructed my husband. “Now turn right at the groove of trees. Now take a sharp left.”
“Are you sure it wasn’t a right turn?” Allan questioned. “Sondra was talking so much about the lamb I couldn’t hear everything. But I think he said turn left. Just keep going.” Allan dutifully turned left and kept driving.
Bethlehem appeared closer and closer. A sheep walked in front of the car, but we assumed it was a stray from one of the pretend shepherds. Soon several shepherds appeared, looking at us quizzically. Next, a few chickens scurried in front of the car, along with a typical Bethlehem family, complete with flowing robes and head dresses.
Reality hit the three of us at the same time: “We’re driving through Bethlehem!” Sondra dived to the floor, telling us she’d never recover from the embarrassing experience. It’s true; our little Ford Contour was driving down Main Street Bethlehem, carefully avoiding animals, costumed characters and the general public.
“Back up! We haven’t gone that far!” I yelled. With clenched teeth, Allan said, “I can’t back up. There are two camels walking behind me.” I advised him to turn left quickly. His response, once more with clenched teeth was, “If I turn left, I will run over Baby Jesus, sleeping in the manger.”
Turning right would have resulted in damage to the “Bethlehem Bakery” tent. We had no choice but to slowly drive down Main Street of Bethlehem for a quarter of a mile. Normally that’s a short distance, but when you’re trying to avoid both chickens and a crowd of people, it seems like a cross-country road trip. More than a few shepherds and costumed townspeople made it clear with gestures and facial expressions that we were disrupting the normally tranquil and motor-less streets of Bethlehem.
A Good Rule Of Thumb
It was a unanimous decision to continue driving straight home to the obscurity of our garage. No need to walk through Bethleham when we already drove through in our one-car parade. What is the lesson for parks and recreation professionals? Please have clear directional signs when planning large-scale community events!
Silvana Clark has over 20 years experience helping thousands of children create arts and crafts projects. She presents keynotes and workshops on a variety of recreation-related subjects. She can be reached at (615) 662-7432 or via e-mail at email@example.com.