Visitors from afar line up to enter the gates of Bethlehem. (Photo by Betsy Allen)
After a two-year closure, travelers were once more allowed to visit the town of Bethlehem located behind the Hometown Independent Mission. The church’s annual Christmas affair, which features costumed volunteers, live animals, and twenty-eight interactive booths representing different professions that might be found in an ancient Middle Eastern town, was reduced to a drive-thru event in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID pandemic. For the first time since 2019, the village has been reopened to the public, allowing for the full Bethlehem experience.
“We are tickled to death to get back to the actual Walk Thru Bethlehem,” said Darrell Moore, one of the event organizers.
Hometown Independent Mission’s town of Bethlehem is enclosed within a wooden stockade and features booths built along the walls. Besides the infamous inn and its stables, the town has a large marketplace which serves to give the public a glimpse of various trades that were common in Biblical days. Demonstrations of blacksmithing, carpentry, stone cutting, pottery, basket weaving, and other crafts were performed by volunteers. New this year was an olive press, in which large quantities of olives were crushed down into a paste. The paste was then put in a strainer, where the oil could either drip down into a basin, or be manually pressed to speed up the process. The olive oil that was made during the Walk Thru Bethlehem weekend cannot be used for cooking, however, because the olive press is for demonstration only and not crafted from food grade materials. Perhaps it can be used to light the lamps at next year’s event.
Over 3,700 visitors came out to visit Hometown’s Bethlehem the weekend of December 9 and 10, with some coming from as far away as Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia, and Maryland. Multiple church groups from around the area were in attendance, and long lines wrapped around the church. This was not a record-breaking year for the Hometown Independent Mission, however. In 2018, over 8,000 people attended the event. Prior to 2020, Walk Thru Bethlehem was spread out over four nights.
During the event, over 2,000 food items were donated to help out local food banks. The church also took monetary donations for community activities and mission work.