WAXAHACHIE — Before the opening scenes of Bethlehem Revisited, the cast and organizers celebrated the beginning of the production's 20th year by retelling the birth of Jesus. The spirited community members also honored founder, Hilda Chapman by Elizabeth Tull reading a story written by Chapman about the beginning and early years of Bethlehem Revisited.
Following the reading, Steve Chapman, husband of the late founder, was presented with a plaque in honor of Hilda, as she was active in the planning of each year’s production until her passing in 2014.
“She oversaw and encouraged the growth of the re-enactment through the years,” Tull said. "The early years were very fundamental. The booths were made of two by fours with painted plastic. There were no sidewalks making it difficult for wheelchair visitors. Now we have a village of permanent buildings, sidewalks, park benches and lighting that make it an attraction for visitors from all over the state and some out of state."
"Many of the cast have been with the production since its beginning, while others are newcomers that bring crafts the way they were done in the time. We have actors that come from as far away as Weatherford and other areas outside the metroplex,” Casting Coordinator Page Gordon said. "I start in September by contacting last year's actors and reaching out to contact new actors who have a trade that would apply to the Bethlehem village as it was in the time of the birth of Jesus."
On Friday night, the streets came to life — lined with street merchants selling bread, fruits, and livestock. While other craftsmen, such as the cloth weavers, flute and soap makers, were busy applying their skills under the stars above the small village.
New to this year’s village is a grain maker and a goat cheese maker.
“They are skilled and use processes and techniques that were used [during that period]. The lady the dyes the cloth uses the same materials and dyes. The wool weaver uses the same tools to weave cloth for clothing that was used back then," Gordon noted.
The production story begins with Mary and Joseph entering the city among the villagers seeking a place to give birth. The couple then meets the innkeeper who says, “The inn is full. There is no place here for you, but I have a stable that you can use.”
With the invite to the stable, Joseph leads the donkey carrying Mary to the outskirts of the village.
As the numerous guests followed, several parents were explaining the story of the birth the to their children who were following alongside, as well.
"I saw baby Jesus,” was a frequent comment of the many children lined around the wooden fence bordering the stable.
With the birth announced, King Herod commanded the three wise men to seek the baby. They zigzag their way through the city, stopping at the tax collector then the innkeeper, before finally arriving at the stable to present their gifts.
“This is one of the most accurate and authentic recreations we’ve seen,” said Cindy and Roy from Lubbock as they walked the pathway through the city.
“Our mission is to help bring the meaning of Christmas to the community and all that come,” said Tull of the annual reenactment.
Bethlehem Revisited will continue next weekend, Friday, Dec. 9 through Sunday, Dec. 11. The village is open from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. with the birth re-enactment beginning every thirty minutes.
The village is located at 402 North College Street, behind the Central Presbyterian Church. There is no admission. However, donations are accepted.