Bethlehem Revisited has been known to visitors for its ability to make the written word come to life with its inspiring recreation of the Biblical Christmas story each year.
Each year, just blocks from downtown Waxahachie, the town of Bethlehem is recreated just as it was long ago with actors taking on the role of citizens. The production takes place Dec. 1 - 3 and Dec. 8 - 10 from 6-9 p.m.
But the actors aren't always the ones who steal the show.
From the sheep, goats, and chickens in the marketplace to the donkey that Mary rides into town or even the arrival of the Magi on camels, each animal plays a part in bringing the story to life.
Entering its 21st season, Doug Baum, who is the owner of the Texas Camel Corps, has been a part of this community event from the very beginning. He supplies the three camels that the Magi ride on as they make their journey to the town.
“Many of the productions that we do are small rural churches, and they may have a humble manger scene set up on the front lawn of the church. Those are interesting in their own ways, but they are small and kind of modest,” Baum said. “Bethlehem Revisited is over the top. It is a city block turned into Bethlehem of 2,000 years ago. It has all of the sights, sounds, and smells. There is livestock roaming the city. There are tax collectors and Roman centurions. You really get the feeling that you are immersed in a Biblical city.”
Baum makes the 70-mile trip from his farm in Valley Mills to Waxahachie each night of the production. Before show time the camels are groomed and are adorned with decorative, custom-made blankets from Egypt and India. These steps help make the camels look very regal and fit for a Magi to ride upon.
A few of the camels used in the production are of the one-hump variety, formally known as the Arabian camel, which originates from the Middle East. He also uses the two-hump camel called the Bactrian Camel. This camel comes from such countries as Mongolia and China. Along with the two humps, the Bactrian has long shaggy hair.
Baum noted that the humps help with the camel’s thermoregulation. The fat stored inside the hump absorbs heat throughout the day, which is then transferred at night to the body to keep the animal warm.
The 10 camels on Buam’s farm were born and bred here in the U.S. and not imported. He noted that nationwide the camel population is about 5,000.
Baum’s interests in camels grew out of his previous career as a zookeeper with the Nashville Zoo and the Cameron Park Zoo in Waco.
“I fell in love with camels, and I saw a greater educational opportunity outside of a zoo setting for camels with camels. So to that end, we provide camels for the holiday productions and Christmas productions. But I also travel to schools, libraries, and museums connecting camels to culture, history, science, and art,” Baum explained. “The Camel itself is interesting. When you connect say to the story of the Magi or the story of U.S. Army using camels in the 1850’s here in Texas or to the silk trade in Asia from the last 2,000 years. Art, you have representations of camels in art that go back 20,000 years in various cave paintings in North Africa or Asia.”
Baum stated that if people have questions about camels or the production that he would be available to answer them during the event. He will be stationed at the manger during the event.
Paige Guarciola, the owner of Ewepet Petting Zoo, supplies the animals that make up the daily lives of the townspeople. She has been operating her petting zoo for the past 15 years.
“It was really by accident. I have always had animals. When my kids started school, they said can you bring the animals to school. I took the animals to school for school carnivals to birthday parties to Scarborough Faire, and it has lead to everything else. We have been doing Bethlehem Revisited for a number a years,” Guarciola said. “For Bethlehem, we have the donkey that mary rides. We have the chickens in the marketplace. We have the cows and the miniature donkeys and stuff that are in the pen over by the centurions.”
Guarciola stated that the animals really help to bring the story to life. They provide a realistic picture of what the town might have looked like because animals were a part of the marketplace on a daily basis. She noted that the animals really connect with the children attending the event because they are able to interact with them. Before the evening activities start each animal are readied to be shown after making the trip from Red Oak by grooming them.
She remarked that the event continues to grow each year and feels like you have stepped back in time.
“You see a lot of familiar faces. There are people that come back year after year. It is an amazing production,” Guarciola stated. “It runs six times a night, but you don’t feel like you have missed your chance. You can walk in at any point and join the story.”
Bethlehem Revisited spans an entire city block. It features a town people can explore. Visitors of the city can interact with townspeople and ask questions.
Cast coordinator Paige Gordon said people taking part in this event should expect a time that is truly unique and will leave long-lasting memories.
“It is a historical reenactment of what the village of Bethlehem might have been like on the night of Christ’s birth. Then it is a completely interactive walk-through event where you become part of the village of Bethlehem in a busy time as people came from all over to respond to the census. So it is a very busy and bustling city. You come through and see life as it may have been at that time,” Gordon explained. “While you are there exploring the city very un-assuredly from behind you might notice a donkey with a woman sitting on it and a young man leading it. You then will realize that is Mary and Joseph. There are no bells and whistles or anything it just happens. The story of Christ’s birth comes alive among you and all around you.”
Gordon added that having the animals in the town adds another level of authenticity to how the story is told and portrayed. She recalled that the animals fill in the little details about the village from seeing a vendor trying to sell chickens to viewing a cow tied up next to a home. Those features add to the story and complete the picture.
One of the more notable scenes of the evening is when the Magi arrive on their camels.
Gordon recalled that you could hear the surprised reaction from the audience when the camels make their arrival into town.
Bethlehem Revisited is located on Jackson Street between East Parks Avenue and Oldham Avenue. More information about the event can be found on the Central Presbyterian Church of Waxahachie’s website at www.cpcwax.org or on Central Presbyterian’s Facebook page. In the event of heavy rain, Bethlehem Revisited will be canceled. Admission is Free.
Additional information can be found at the Waxahachie Chamber of Commerce website at www.waxahachiechamber.com. Also, chamber staff can be reached at 972-937-2390.