BONNIE PARRIES, A resident of “Bethlehem,” weaves a basket during an earlier performance of Wishram’s live nativity. This year the Christmas scene will operate Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 20 to 22, from 6 to 8 p.m. Contributed photo
Each year the live nativity scene in Wishram adds another touch of authenticity to its little town of Bethlehem, and this year women are baking bread and a man will be making walking sticks.
The free drive-through nativity, now in its seventh year, is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 20-22, from 6 to 8 p.m. on Railroad Avenue.
Up to 30 people play roles in the nativity, including Joseph and Mary, angels and wise men, Roman guards and townspeople.
The event has had up to 300 people drive through over the course of the three evenings.
“Our plan each year is to help keep the ‘X’ out of Christmas and our goal is to really allow people to remember the reason that we celebrate Christmas,” said Charlie Hargrove, the pastor at Wishram Community Church.
He credits the late Jeanne Simi, a member of the church, with the idea of having a live nativity scene. She suggested it the first November the Hargroves were at the church, and by the next month, they’d assembled enough players and backdrops to create and populate Bethlehem.
The buildings in the town include an inn, a manger, a barn, a synagogue, and entry gates where Roman guards stop cars and take a census of the passengers and what town they are from.
“They take the same census as in the day of Christ’s birth, when Mary and Joseph had to return to Bethlehem by orders that everybody had to return to the place of their birth, with their families, to be counted,” Hargrove said.
“So Mary and Joseph trekked from their home to Bethlehem and when they got to the town there was no room at the inn.
“The word that the Bible uses, that he was laid in a manger, it literally is a feeding trough. And we have a tendency to think of the manger as the building itself, but really it only talks about the fact that he was laid in a feeding trough,” he said.
“There are some scholars who believe he was born in a cave and some who believe it was merely another building. We don’t know for sure and it doesn’t really make a difference, just a curiosity,” Hargrove said.
“In the nativity scene, the manger is a three-sided building with the front wide open and hay inside and Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus inside and you’ll see angels dropping by and wise men coming to pay their tribute and shepherds coming in from the field to see what the fuss is about,” he said.
The baby Jesus is a doll provided by church member Norma Meadows, who is a member of a doll club in the gorge, Hargrove said. As for the bread being baked this year, the pre-made dough will be baked on the spot, during the nativity scene, and will be consumed by the townspeople of Bethlehem. “It’s part of our trick to get some food out of the deal,” he joked.
Townspeople will also be making candles.
The walking sticks — simple affairs with a leather thong through it and a rubber tip on the bottom — being made will be available for anyone to take home, on a first come, first served basis. The sticks, as they are being made, will be taken to the church, where people are invited to stop by after going through the nativity scene.
Hot chocolate and coffee and cookies will be available at the church. The event is free, but donations are welcome. Also new this year, the gates to Bethlehem have been modified to accommodate taller vehicles, Hargrove said.
In the past, residents from care facilities were invited to the nativity scene, only for their bus to be unable to fit through the gate. They had to get out and walk the short block of the scene, Hargrove said.
“Now we can accommodate those types of buses,” he said.